The Latest: Greece: Stop migrants in Turkish waters

AP News
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Posted: Feb 08, 2016 3:06 PM
The Latest: Greece: Stop migrants in Turkish waters

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The Latest on the influx of migrants into Europe (all times local):

10:05 p.m.

Greece's defense minister says he wants an agreement with neighboring Turkey that would allow the European Union's Frontex border agency to stop and turn back — within Turkish waters — boats carrying migrants to the Greek islands.

Panos Kammenos said Monday that he has already made the proposal to his EU colleagues, who "showed great interest," and will raise the matter with NATO officials.

He said Greek authorities are in a position to locate smugglers boats as they leave the nearby Turkish coast and alert Frontex, and the Turkish coast guard. Kammenos said this would "stop the great migratory flow to Greece" and stop deaths of migrants and refugees trying to reach Greece in rickety boats.

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8:55 p.m.

Turkey's deputy prime minister says his country's priority is to keep fleeing Syrians within the borders of their country and provide them with assistance there.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have massed at the Turkish border in recent days, escaping a Syrian government onslaught around the city of Aleppo. Turkey kept the border closed for a fourth day on Monday and it was not clear if the refugees would be allowed in.

Numan Kurtulmus said after a cabinet meeting that Turkey would care for Syrians outside of Turkey "as much as possible."

He said some 77,000 Syrians are being given assistance in displaced persons camps in Syria along the border with Turkey, including those who arrived recently.

Kurtulmus said that an estimated 600,000 Syrians could mass at the border in the "worst case scenario."

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6:15 p.m.

Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz says his country will not be able to handle the same number of migrants this year as it did in 2015 and will help Western Balkan nations stop them at their borders.

Last year Austria received 90,000 asylum-seekers, which overstretched its capacities, Kurz said Monday in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

"Macedonia is ready to accept the help of the European Union. This is unfortunately not happening in Greece," Kurz said, insisting that the EU offered Greece support but it was rejected.

He said last summer he warned that the welcome culture in Europe was correct on a human level but that it could encourage more people to head toward the continent, which is what happened.

Kurz noted that it was wrong for Europe to watch migrants arriving in Greece and then let them be directed further to non-EU countries.

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5:15 p.m.

Turkish coast guard officials say they have recovered the bodies of five more migrants, raising to 27 the death toll in the latest boat sinking accident off the Turkish coast. At least 11 of the victims are children, an official said.

A coast guard statement said a search-and-rescue mission, backed by helicopters, was still underway for other migrants reported missing after a boat carrying them to the Greek island of Lesbos went down in the Bay of Edremit on Monday.

The Dogan news agency had earlier reported that 11 other migrants had drowned off the resort of Dikili, south of the Bay of Edremit, and put the total death toll at more than 30. It later corrected that report and said the 11 victims were from the same accident and were included in the coast guard officials' toll.

Ali Sirmali, local administrator for the town of Edremit, said authorities have recovered the bodies of 11 children.

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4:35 p.m.

Hungary's prime minister says Western European leaders who consider migration a positive issue are to blame for the "very serious terror risks" and for deteriorating everyday security on the continent.

Viktor Orban says migration "must be stopped" and has reiterated his call for a "European defense line" on the northern borders of Greece to end the influx of people.

Orban, who hosted Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo on Monday, said that the "migrant phenomenon did not break into Europe violently" but that migrants were called into Western Europe "without control, filtering or security screening."

Szydlo also called for the strengthening of the southern borders of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone, saying that "the migration issue has to be solved basically outside the EU borders."

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4:30 p.m.

Opponents are accusing British Prime Minister David Cameron of using scare tactics after he said that thousands of asylum-seekers could come to Britain overnight if the country votes to leave the European Union.

A Cameron spokesman said it was "perfectly feasible" that France would end existing border arrangements with Britain, leading to "thousands of asylum-seekers pitching up in southeast England."

Currently, British border officials check U.K.-bound passengers on French soil, under an arrangement between the two countries.

Downing St. says that if the arrangement ended, thousands of migrants living in makeshift camps near the French port of Calais would be free to cross the English Channel.

But David Davis, a Euroskeptic lawmaker from Cameron's Conservative Party, said "the idea that leaving the EU would give us less control of our borders is simply preposterous." Another Conservative legislator, Sarah Wollaston, accused Cameron of "ratcheting up the alarmist rhetoric."

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2:55 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she's "not just appalled but horrified" by the suffering caused by Russian bombing in Syria.

Merkel, speaking Monday after a meeting with Turkey's prime minister, said that Turkey and Germany will push at the United Nations for everyone to keep to a U.N. resolution passed in December that calls on all sides to halt without delay attacks on the civilian population.

She said: "We have been, in the past few days, not just appalled but horrified by what has been caused in the way of human suffering for tens of thousands of people by bombing — bombing primarily from the Russian side."

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Syrian city of Aleppo "is de facto under siege. We are on the verge of a new human tragedy."

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2:45 p.m.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says Turkey and Germany have agreed on a set of steps to halt the flow of refugees from Syria, including a joint diplomatic initiative to stop the onslaught against Aleppo.

Davutoglu said during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the two countries would also carry out "joint efforts" for greater NATO involvement in the refugee issue. He said they would seek the use of NATO's observation capabilities at the border with Syria and in the Aegean Sea.

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2:20 p.m.

A top government official has reacted angrily to European Union pressure on Turkey to open its doors to tens of thousands of Syrians who have massed at the frontier fleeing a government onslaught.

Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan accused the EU on Monday of giving Turkey lessons in morality and pushing the refugee burden on the country, without taking any responsibility itself.

Akdogan said: "On the one hand they say 'open your borders, take everyone in' on the other hand they say 'close your border don't let anyone through."

"Without even providing money, they say 'taking these people is conscience necessity,'" Akdogan said. "Is it just us that must to act with conscience? ... Why don't you take them in?" He was referring to the 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) the EU has pledged to help Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Numan Kurtulmus, another deputy prime minister, said Sunday that Turkey had reached the end of its capacity to absorb refugees but would continue to accept Syrians escaping the conflict. He says the country is home to 3 million refugees, including 2.5 million Syrians.

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2:15 p.m.

Germany's foreign minister says that seeking a military solution to Syria's civil war will only pave the way for years more fighting.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier said before talks involving the U.S., Russia and regional powers expected Thursday in Munich that it's important to calm fighting in Syria, enable humanitarian access and so "reopen the door for negotiations between the government and the opposition in Geneva."

He added Monday that it's a "difficult task, but I think the current situation should show everyone that anyone who counts on a military solution will experience five years more civil war."

A U.N.-led attempt to launch indirect talks between a government delegation and opposition representatives in Geneva was adjourned last week amid bickering. U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said the process will resume Feb. 25.

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1:55 p.m.

Authorities in Macedonia have begun reinforcing a barrier at its border with Greece, designed to limit the number of migrants and asylum seekers crossing into the country.

The army confirmed Monday that construction was underway to create a second layer of fencing along sections of the border.

An Army official told The Associated Press that "preparations are underway to build a second row of barbed wire and metal fencing, five meters behind the existing fence." The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak directly to the news media.

Macedonia started building the fence in November when it toughened entry criteria for migrants and refugees traveling through Greece.

By Konstantin Testorides in Skopje.

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1:50 p.m.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos says the country will complete new migrant screening centers and transit camps within a week, despite long delays and local protests against some of the projects.

Kammenos says: "Our country has undertaken certain important commitments for mid-February, and with the help of the armed forces, those commitments will be honored,"

Protests against two planned transit camps took place Monday near Athens and Greece's second-largest city, Thessaloniki. The rally outside the Greek capital was organized by the extreme right Golden Dawn party.

According to Greek and European Union officials, the two new camps will have a combined capacity of 3,000 places, to be expanded to 8,000 places later this year.

At the weekend, a group of residents on the island of Kos continued demonstrations against a planned screening center for migrants, with protesters using burning tires to set up roadblocks.

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11:55 a.m.

Dozens of Greek riot police have been deployed to a demonstration organized by the extreme right Golden Dawn party against plans to build a new transit camp for refugees and migrants near Athens.

Four of the party's 18 lawmakers were present at the rally Monday outside the port of Perama, about 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) west of Athens, where the government is planning to build the camp with the help of the armed forces.

About 150 people staged a counter-demonstration near the site.

Greece is under pressure from the European Union to complete screening centers on five islands and increase its capacity to house asylum-seekers and detain migrants facing deportation.

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11:50 a.m.

A retired general who once led the French Foreign Legion will appear in court after he was arrested for taking part in a banned anti-migrant protest in Calais.

Christian Piquemal and around 150 militants from anti-Islam and anti-immigration group Pegida gathered Saturday in the northern French city to chant slogans such as "We must not let Calais die. Calais is part of France."

Police dispersed the rowdy protest with tear gas.

Calais has been a focal point for migrants who want to slip into Britain via the Channel Tunnel. Several thousand have been living there in slums for months.

The demonstration was one of several around Europe Saturday amid growing tensions over the massive influx of asylum-seekers to the continent.

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10:40

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and other Turkish officials for talks on reducing the influx of migrants to Europe.

Turkey, a key country on the migrant route to Europe, is central to Merkel's diplomatic efforts to reduce the flow.

Her talks in Ankara Monday come as Turkey faces mounting pressure to open its border to up to 35,000 Syrians who have massed along the frontier fleeing an onslaught by government forces.

Turkey, home 2.5 million Syrian refugees, says it has reached its capacity to absorb refugees but has indicated that it will continue to provide refuge.

Turkey agreed in November to fight smuggling networks and help curb irregular migration. The EU has pledged 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to help improve the condition of refugees.