BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest on the influx of migrants in Europe (all times local):
The man leading European Union talks on the contested deal with Turkey to deport thousands of migrants says a lot of work remains to be done if the agreement is to be finalized at an EU summit on Friday Mar, 18.
EU President Donald Tusk wrote Wednesday Mar. 16, in an invitation to the bloc’s leaders that “the catalog of issues to be resolved before we can conclude an agreement is long.”
Tusk said the priority is to ensure that the deal respects international law, does not create new routes to Europe and provides help to Greece as it sets up the system for returning migrants to Turkey.
EU leaders and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu are set to seal the deal on Friday Mar. 18. Under it, EU nations would take in one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every irregular migrant returned to the country.
The Czech government says its priority is to use the already approved EU scheme for redistributing migrants to directly relocate Syrians from Turkey.
In a mandate for Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka for the EU summit with Turkey approved Wednesday, Mar. 16, the government says the Czechs would be ready to accept the refugees as part of the previously approved plan to relocate 120,000 people among the EU member states.
But the government also says it is opposing any deal that would contain new commitments to accept a bigger number of migrants.
As part of a broader deal, Turkey has offered to take back some migrants if an equal number are allowed into the EU legally.
The European Union told member states they “urgently need to deliver” on commitments to settle refugees on the continent, as the number of arrivals in Greece alone reached the million mark since the start of 2015.
EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned that the “humanitarian situation in Greece (is) getting more acute every day” after newly-built shelters there exceeded capacity.
The warning came on the eve of a summit of leaders from the EU and Turkey to try and limit the number of refugees and migrants coming to Europe.
American actress and U.N. refugee agency envoy Angelina Jolie was in Athens on Tuesday, Mar. 15 to visit overcrowded shelters, as the number of refugees and migrants neared 44,000.
The European Commission insists that Turkey will be offered no shortcuts toward membership talks or visa liberalization during this week’s summit aimed at clinching a deal on how Ankara can ease the EU’s migration crisis.
Commission vice president Frans Timmermans insisted Turkey would have to respect all the conditions to make visa liberalization a reality by June, a deadline many have called extremely tight.
Timmermans said that a speeding up of membership talks would also be conditional on the position of all member states, each of which can stop any sizable progress. He said “we are certainly not giving Turkey a free ride.”
He also insisted that the outline agreement of March 7 to send back irregular migrants to Turkey and instead accept Syrian refugees in Turkey to be resettled legally in the EU would meet legal standards.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the current migrant crisis can only be solved if all European leaders heading to the EU summit in Brussels are interested in finding a common solution.
Merkel, in a speech to German Parliament on Wednesday, Mar. 16, called the migrant question the biggest challenge for Europe in decades. She reiterated her support for a deal with Turkey, which includes the return of refugees there in exchange for EU financial support and negotiations about a possible Turkish EU membership.
Merkel says the numbers of migrants entering Europe illegally needs to go down permanently and for that Europe needs Turkey’s help.
She stressed only a common agreement could in the long run guarantee that Europe will come out of the crisis stronger than it has entered it.
Italian lawmakers have approved Oct. 3 as a day to remember migrants who have perished in the Mediterranean Sea.
The date is the anniversary of the 2013 shipwreck off Lampedusa that left 366 migrants dead, and shook the Italian government into launching sea patrols to rescue migrants, many of them fleeing war and poverty.
Laura Boldrini, the president of the lower house and a former spokeswoman in Italy for the U.N. refugee agency, said on Twitter that Wednesday’s Mar. 16, approval of the day of remembrance for migrants “is a sign of civility of our parliament.”
Senate president Pietro Grasso appealed to Europe to “overcome egoism and divisions” to come up with a plan to help migrants make the journey safely. He said some 4,200 migrants have died trying to reach Europe since the beginning of 2015.
The U.N. refugee agency says more than 1 million people have crossed into Greece alone since the start of 2015.
UNHCR figures show more than 143,500 people — mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans — have reached Greece from Turkey this year through March 14. A calculation of agency figures Wednesday, Mar. 16, shows total land and sea arrivals into Greece were 1,000,229 since Jan. 1, 2015.
UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration had previously reported that more than 1 million people reached Europe overall last year, but that included arrivals across the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy.
The new figures show how much Greece has borne the brunt of the influx. UNHCR has repeatedly appealed to the European Union to take a more coordinated approach in handling the influx.
U.S. actress Angelina Jolie, a special envoy for the U.N. refugee agency, is visiting refugees and migrants in the Greek capital’s main port of Piraeus.
Jolie spoke Wednesday, Mar. 16, with refugees in Piraeus, where about 4,000 people are waiting either to head north to Greece’s closed border with Macedonia, or for a place in rapidly filling official shelters.
Some 44,000 refugees and migrants, the last of the 143,000 who have entered Greece so far from Turkey in smugglers’ boats, are trapped in the country because of border closures on the Balkan route to Europe’s prosperous heartland. About 12,000 are in the greater Athens area.
The president of Cyprus is traveling to Brussels on the eve of a European Union summit with Turkey on migration to outline his government’s opposition to making too many concessions to Ankara.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades will meet with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker Wednesday evening, one day after telling EU President Donald Tusk that Cyprus has no intention of permitting full negotiations for Turkey’s EU membership — a position that could scuttle the whole deal.
The two-day EU summit starting on Thursday, Mar. 17, will try to make sure all EU nations sign off on a deal with Turkey that even Tusk has said still needs to be “rebalanced” to make it acceptable to all. The tentative agreement struck March 7 would allow Greece to return migrants to Turkey as Europe opens new routes for pre-screened migrants to seek asylum legally.
Turkey demands some 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) to help deal with the migrant crisis and wants big concessions, particularly on its long-held dream of joining the EU. Nowhere does mistrust run higher than in neighboring Cyprus, which has been divided into a Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north since 1974.
Right-wing members of Greece’s left-led coalition government are calling for the resignation of the country’s minister for immigration, Ioannis Mouzalas, who departed from the official Greek line in a reference to neighboring Macedonia.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who leads the Independent Greeks party, objected to Mouzalas speaking of Macedonia, instead of the cumbersome but preferred in Greece “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”
Mouzalas on Wednesday, Mar. 16, apologized, saying he made a slip of the tongue. Greece has been involved in a dispute with its tiny northern neighbor over Macedonia’s name. Athens contends that the use of the name Macedonia implies claims on Greece’s own northern province of Macedonia.
Macedonia’s president says neighboring Greece is not being cooperative on the immigration crisis following a large influx of refugees into his country on Monday, Mar. 14.
Gjorge Ivanov convened a meeting of the National Security Council late Tuesday, Mar. 15, and afterward told the press that Greece should stop allowing migrants to reach the boundary between the two nations.
About 14,000 people are stuck in a muddy tent city at the Idomeni crossing, on the Greek side of the border, hoping that Macedonia will allow them through on their journey to Europe’s prosperous heartland.
About 1,500 bypassed a fence Monday, Mar. 14, to enter Macedonia, but were detained and forced back into Greece — with violence according to some refugees. Macedonia has rejected the claims.
Ivanov called for better cooperation between Macedonian and Greek security services.
The item timed at 4:55 p.m. corrects a previous entry dated 12:10 p.m. to say that the Czechs want to use the existing scheme to directly relocate Syrians from Turkey, not that they want to use it rather than directly relocate from Turkey.
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