Reuters International

Migrants disembark from a Turkish coastguard boat after a failed attempt at crossing to the Greek island of Lesbos, in the Turkish coastal town of Dikili, Turkey April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey will grant temporary protection status to Syrian migrants sent back from Greek islands, the government said on Thursday, a step required under an agreement with the European Union to combat illegal migration.

The status would be given to Syrians who had illegally crossed to the islands after March 20, 2016, and who requested protection after being re-admitted to Turkey, according to the website of the government's Official Gazette.

The Turkish cabinet agreed to the new regulation during its meeting on Tuesday, and it came into effect on Thursday. Turkey needed to make the legal change before Greece could return migrants from its territory. The EU's top migration official pressed for the provision in Ankara this week.

So far only people who would have been deported anyway, even without the Turkish accord, have been sent back.

Under the agreement deal with the EU, Turkey will take back all migrants and refugees who cross the Aegean to enter Greece illegally. The EU has agreed to take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and reward Ankara with money, visa-free travel and progress in talks on EU membership.

The first 202 people were sent back to Turkey from Greece on Monday under the accord, which rights advocates say may violate the law. United Nations agencies and rights campaigners oppose the scheme and aim to instruct all those who reach Greece on how to apply for asylum.

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall and David Dolan, Larry King)

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