SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — The Latest on migrants seeking sanctuary in Europe (all times local):
Municipal authorities on the Greek island of Lesbos say they have given 14,000 life vests used by migrants and refugees to the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei for an art project he is planning in Germany to highlight the plight of refugees.
A statement from the island’s municipality said Wednesday, Feb. 3, that “this project is aimed raising awareness and mobilizing the world community to the crime being committed every day in the Aegean Sea by ruthless traffickers.”
It said the artist had made a personal request for life vests to the island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos.
Ai has repeatedly visited Lesbos, Europe’s busiest entry point since the refugee crisis started. Tens of thousands of life vests remain strewn on the island’s beaches and at a landfill near the north coast where most landings occur.
The European Union’s executive arm has agreed to double its contribution to a fund to help Syrian refugees in Turkey after EU member states baulked at paying billions from national coffers.
EU leaders agreed last year to give 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to Turkey as part of a package of incentives aimed at persuading it to do more to stop thousands of migrants leaving for Greece.
The European Commission had pledged to provide 500 million euros of that but announced on Wednesday, Feb. 3, that it would double that sum as Italy threatened to block the fund.
Italy insisted Wednesday, Feb. 3, that the Commission must take into account money the country has spent on migrant efforts since the crisis in Libya when assessing Rome’s economic progress.
Police in Istanbul say they have detained eight suspects in simultaneous raids targeting human smugglers and seized fake passports and other materials.
A police statement on Wednesday, Feb. 3, said the suspects were taken into custody following a series of raids at 14 homes across the city.
Police anti-smuggling units also say they seized more than 1,000 fake or stolen passports and other documents apparently used to smuggle migrants to European countries. Materials to produce fake passports were also seized. The state-run Anadolu Agency says the suspects include two Syrians.
Turkey agreed in November to fight the smuggling networks and help curb irregular migration. The European Union pledged 3 billion euros ($3.25 billion) to help improve the refugees’ conditions in return.
Macedonia has lifted restrictions on the entry of refugees from the Greek border after Macedonian taxi drivers ended a five-day protest that had closed a key railway line, slowing migrant flows to Serbia.
Macedonian railways official Kire Dimoski said the railway service, which migrants use to head north through the Balkans, has been functioning normally since early Wednesday, Feb. 3.
Taxi drivers blocked the tracks demanding that authorities allow them to carry transient migrants to Serbia even if there are available train and bus seats. During the protest, only small numbers of migrants were allowed to enter Macedonia.
Macedonia accepts people only from war-affected zones who declare Austria or Germany as their final destination.
More than 55,000 migrants have passed through Macedonia this year.
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