Greek islands set to welcome Turkish visitors for the first time under new visa scheme

Rhodes, pictured here, will be the home of the visa office for Turkish tourists
Rhodes, pictured here, will be the home of the visa office for Turkish tourists Copyright Antonio Magrì via Unsplash
Copyright Antonio Magrì via Unsplash
By Saskia O'Donoghue with AP
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Could the opening up of travel to Greek islands for Turkish citizens be the first step towards solving the ‘Cyprus problem’?


Turkish travellers will now be able to visit ten Greek islands under a new scheme announced this week.

Officials on the popular island of Rhodes have opened a new visa terminal for Turkish visitors as part of a diplomatic effort to ease long-standing tensions between the two countries.

The limited-access visa will allow Turks to visit the Greek islands for up to a week without having to apply for full access to the EU’s passport-free travel zone, also known as the Schengen area.

NATO members Greece and Turkey launched several initiatives last year to try to sidestep decades-old disputes - mostly over sea boundaries, mineral rights in the Aegean Sea and the ownership of Cyprus. The renewed focus on trade is positive for tourism too.

Which Greek islands are included in the express visa scheme and how much does it cost?

In December, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to sign a series of bilateral cooperation agreements in Athens.

Mitsotakis is set to visit Turkey next month. Ahead of that meeting, he took to social media, writing: “the express visa can be issued not only in summer, but all year round. The measure is designed to boost tourism in areas and at times of the year when there is not a lot of traffic, so it will help the local economies.”

The islands in the visa programme all lie near the Turkish coastline. They include Lesbos, Limnos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kalymnos, Kos, Symi and Kastellorizo, with smaller islands due to join the scheme in June.

The island of Symi, near Rhodes, will also be part of the scheme
The island of Symi, near Rhodes, will also be part of the schemeBen Morris via Unsplash

Granted at participating Greek ports, the new visa will cost €60 per traveller and will include a passport check and fingerprint recording.

Greek officials have made it clear that visitors to the islands will not be permitted to travel onto other EU member states without the correct paperwork.

Turkey has long sought more relaxed travel rules for its citizens visiting the EU in exchange for its cooperation with member states, including efforts to curb illegal immigration.

Tourism is a vital industry for the Greek economy. It welcomed 32.7 million visitors last year alone, which raised €20.5 billion, according to central bank data.

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