The Latest: More work needed on EU migrant deal with Turkey

AP News
Posted: Mar 07, 2016 6:51 PM
The Latest: More work needed on EU migrant deal with Turkey

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest on the migration crisis as leaders from the EU and Turkey meet in Brussels (all times local):

0:48 a.m.

Luxembourg's prime minister says that European Union and Turkish leaders have ended talks aimed at tackling the refugee emergency but that more work is needed to finalize an agreement.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said in a tweet early Tuesday that EU Council President Donald Tusk "will take forward the proposals and work out the details with the Turkish side" before the next EU summit on March 17.

The EU has been trying to persuade Turkey to take back thousands of migrants and do more to stop others leaving for Europe.

But at a summit in Brussels, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu demanded more money, a quicker easing of visa rules and more progress on Turkey's long-delayed EU membership talks.


11 p.m.

Greek authorities say they want to move the bulk of the estimated 14,000 migrants stuck in a sprawling tent city on the border with Macedonia to camps elsewhere.

But Deputy Defense Minister Dimitris Dritsas has ruled out using force, saying instead that officials will ask people to travel voluntarily to camps still under construction.

More than 36,000 people seeking asylum in other parts of Europe are stuck in Greece, more than a third of them near the Greek border village of Idomeni.


10 p.m.

Hungary says it will veto any plan to resettle asylum seekers directly from Turkey to EU countries in a setback for a European Union summit seeking a deal on how to deal with the migrant crisis.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said earlier at Monday's summit that he expects any deal to include new EU commitments to accept refugees from Turkey, rather than force them to take dangerous sea crossings to Greece.

But the spokesman for Prime Minister Viktor Orban says Hungary would veto any such EU commitment.


8:30 p.m.

Hungary is planning to cut cash and other subsidies for asylum-seekers, reduce the individual space they are allotted in detention centers to the size given prison inmates and scrap measures assisting their integration.

The government said Monday in draft legislation posted online that it wants to bring the rights of refugees in line with the rights of Hungarian citizens. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee advocacy group, however, says the real aim is to make it more difficult for those granted asylum in Hungary to stay in the country.

Other proposed measures include cutting from two months to one month the time those granted asylum can stay in reception centers and reducing their eligibility for health care services from one year to six months.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban says a large influx of Muslim immigrants will destroy Hungarians' lifestyle and endanger Europe's Christian culture.

In 2015, Hungary granted asylum or other kinds of protection to 508 people.


7:40 p.m.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country must conclude a new agreement on migrants with the European Union because "the wave of refugees has increased tremendously in the last months."

Turkey is already home to 2.7 million refugees, Davutoglu told reporters during a visit to NATO, and "hundreds of thousands" more are currently on the Syrian side of the border.

"They are in a very desperate situation, and we are very worried whether there could be new waves of refugees," he said.

At an EU summit Monday, Davutoglu said he presented Turkey's proposals to discourage new migrants from entering Turkey, improve the living standard of existing refugees, and strengthen Turkish-EU ties — "not only on illegal migrant issues," he emphasized, "but also on all challenging issues," including Turkey's longstanding bid to join the EU.


6:30 p.m.

Dozens of men, women and children have held a sit-down protest on the railway tracks running past the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border, calling on European leaders meeting in Brussels to open the borders.

Frustrated refugees in Idomeni have occasionally blocked freight trains from passing down the tracks for hours, but Monday's protest was more symbolic in nature as no train was passing and a Greek television station had also set up a marquee with a live camera position on the track beside the protesters.

As night fell, the protesters braved rainfall, holding up banners made of sheets and chanting "Germany, Germany" and "Mama Merkel," referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel whom they see as sympathetic to their plight.

About 13,000-14,000 people are stranded in Idomeni.


6:20 p.m.

Two aid groups say they have rescued 68 African migrants from a disintegrating plastic boat that was sinking off the Libyan coast.

Another boat in the area remains in distress, according to a statement from Doctors of the World, or Medecins du monde, and SOS Mediterannee.

The groups said they were alerted to the sinking boats by maritime authorities in Rome, and safely rescued 68 people aboard the first boat. The youngest person aboard was 14.

No casualties were reported, though one man suffered a severe foot injury and several were suffering from hypothermia or shock, the statement said. The migrants — from Senegal, Gambia, Mali and Sierra Leone — were taken onto a special Doctors of the World aid ship that can hold 500 people.


6:10 p.m.

France's government says a hotline is going to be set up to help local businesses in Calais that are suffering amid the migrant crisis.

About 500 Calais residents and merchants have demonstrated on the streets of Paris around the Elysee Palace to draw the attention to their economic difficulties.

The new hotline will help small business owners to get tax relief.

Thousands of migrants are camped out in the Calais region, hoping to sneak across the English Channel to Britain. The protesters claim that the situation has badly damaged local businesses' activity.


4:55 p.m.

The head of the European Parliament says that Turkey has asked for an additional 3 billion euros ($3.29 billion) from the European Union to help it deal with the refugee crisis as EU leaders seek more help from Ankara to stem the flow of refugees across the Aegean.

Diplomats also said that EU leaders at Monday's summit were faced with additional Turkish requests to speed up visa liberalization and better conditions for membership talks.

And they said Turkey was also looking for a deal under which it would be able to send refugees to Europe for people it takes back from Greece.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said that a "further request of the Turkish side for additional money — 3 billion euros — are in the debate, are in the discussion."


4:35 p.m.

Interior ministers from Hungary and Croatia say they are reopening three railway crossing shut last year to stem the flow of migrants and refugees into Hungary.

Sandor Pinter of Hungary and Vlaho Orepic of Croatia said the crossings at Murakesresztur-Kotoriba, Gyekenes-Koprivnica and Magyarboly-Beli Manastir would reopen Monday.

The crossings were shut as Hungary built fences on its borders with Croatia and Serbia and diverted migrants toward Slovenia and Austria.

The fences have succeeded in stopping most migrants on their way to Germany and other western destinations from entering Hungary, though the number of migrants caught by Hungarian police across the border with Serbia has been increasing over the past weeks to a high of 248 people on Friday.

During the September-October peak, 6,000-10,000 migrants were reaching Hungary each day.


3:10 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the European Union of failing to deliver a 3 billion euro ($3.3 billion) fund promised to the country to help it deal with its influx of refugees.

In an address to women trade-unionists, Erdogan said he hopes the prime minister can return from the EU-Turkey summit in Brussels Monday with the money.

Erdogan also criticized European nations for their unwillingness to take in refugees as well as their demands on Turkey to halt the flow of people.

He said: "We are not sending them, they are going (to Greece) by sea and many of them are dying. We have rescued close to 100,000 from the sea. Others are puncturing their boats and causing their deaths."

He went on to denounce what he said were Western nations' indifference toward women and children who were "massacred" by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

Erdogan said: "Why do those who cause a stir over the videos that the (Islamic State group) posts on the Internet for show, ignore the innocent children and women massacred by Assad's state terror?"


2:05 p.m.

Hungary's prime minister says that Europe should shut its borders to migrants and not let anyone in without registration and permission.

Speaking Monday upon his arrival to an EU summit in Brussels, Viktor Orban said that any plan to resettle people from Turkey or Greece would only add "fuel to the fire" and cause even more people to come.

Orban said that Hungary wouldn't participate in any resettlement plan and that "nothing should be done without the closing of the borders."

He also said that Ukrainians should be given EU visas exemptions before any similar deal with Turkey, which is being offered billions of euros (dollars) in refugee aid, fast-track EU membership and an easing of visa rules to win its support for efforts to stem the migrant flow.


1:55 p.m.

The European Union's foreign affairs chief is insisting that Turkey heeds the call to adhere to fundamental democratic rights and freedom of expression after authorities seized Turkey's largest-circulation newspaper following government criticism.

Turkish authorities stormed the headquarters of the Zaman newspaper to enforce a court decision to place it and its sister outlets under the management of trustees. The move sparked two days of protests which police dispersed using tear gas and water cannons.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said before a migration crisis summit with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday that Turkey must "respect the highest standards when it comes to democracy, rule of law fundamental freedoms starting from the freedom of expression."

The leaders of France and Belgium also insisted on guarantees for media freedom.


1:45 p.m.

Cyprus' foreign minister says Turkey must take back economic migrants who aren't entitled to international protection.

Ioannis Kasoulides says "it is obvious" that "more than 50 percent" of migrants now on European soil aren't from war-torn Syria whose citizens need such protection.

Kasoulides said after talks with his Bosnian counterpart Monday that these economic migrants "found an easy route to fly to Turkey" from where they can enter Greece in hopes of reaching Germany and other wealthy northern European countries.

European Union leaders on Monday will press Turkey to do more to stop migrants from entering Europe and to shore up support for Greece, where thousands of people are stranded.


1:30 p.m.

Bosnia's foreign minister says his country has made preparations to deal with an influx of migrants trying to make their way to northern Europe in case the main Balkan route shifts further south.

Igor Crnadak says an "entirely new route" could open for migrants trying to reach European Union member Croatia through Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia after the main, more northerly Balkan route has effectively been closed.

Crnadak said after talks with his Cypriot counterpart Monday that Bosnia can help a "certain number" of migrants pass through the country, but "we're not in a position to even discuss letting some of them stay."

He said Bosnian authorities could close the country's borders, but this hasn't been discussed yet.


1:20 p.m.

Tensions are high among the more than 13,000 migrants who are stranded at the Greek-Macedonian border as they await a decision at the EU summit in Brussels that could determine their fate.

Hassan Sheikho, a Syrian refugee who is one of the first in line to cross into Macedonia, says "the whole world will be in chaos," if "they don't take all the people here and settle us down."

He urged leaders Monday to "solve the crisis in Syria and we'll go back, otherwise, make your decision and we'll be ready."

Cold weather, unhygienic living conditions and limited supplies of food and water are already putting pressure on the refugees and other migrants at the camp in Idomeni. Now they may also need to face the possibility of the Balkan route ahead being shut for good.

UNHCR spokesman, Babar Baloch, told the AP that for most of the refugees at the camp, there hasn't been much movement anyway. He said they "need an answer, a quick answer."


1:00 p.m.

About 150 migrants have abandoned a squalid, mud-filled camp in northern France to move into wooden sheds with access to showers and other facilities built by Doctors Without Borders.

The move is part of efforts to improve conditions for thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa who have converged on northern France in hopes of sneaking across the English Channel to Britain.

The aid group's spokesman, Samuel Hanryon, says three buses brought about 150 migrants from the camp in Grande-Synthe to the new site Monday. Hundreds more are expected to arrive in coming days from the camp, which currently houses about 1,050 people including 74 children.

A small number of the new arrivals had travelled from a camp in the nearby city of Calais, where authorities are evacuating a tent camp that had become a flashpoint in Europe's migrant crisis.

Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, built the new 2.5 million-euro site, including 4-person sheds and access to toilets, kitchens and electricity.


12:55 p.m.

Greece's government says it's planning to build shelters at nine new sites to cope with the rising number of migrants who have been stranded in the country after the introduction of border restrictions by countries further north.

A government statement Monday said the new sites, providing a total of 17,500 places, are mostly near Athens and in central Greece.

Dimitris Vitsas, the deputy defense minister, said 16,000 of those places should be available by the end of the week and could be used to provide alternative accommodation for the roughly 14,000 people who are camped out in Idomeni by the Macedonian border.

He said the government also plans to move people out of Piraeus, the country's busiest port where some 3,000 are currently staying, by the end of the week.

Greece's armed forces have built most of the country's refugee shelters at disused military bases.


12:40 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she expects "difficult negotiations" at the European Union summit with Turkey on the migrant crisis.

Merkel said her aim is to reduce the number of migrants entering illegally "and not just for a few countries, but for all countries — that means for Greece too." Refugees and other migrants have been piling up in Greece since nations on the Balkan route, used by hundreds of thousands of people, imposed border restrictions.

Merkel said Monday that there needs to be a "sustainable solution" that involves protecting the EU's external borders, and "that can only be done in cooperation with Turkey."

She said she hopes to "move a step forward" but that will require tough negotiations.


11:30 a.m.

Turkey's prime minister says he hopes that a summit with European Union leaders on Monday will mark a turning point in relations as the EU seeks to stop migrants heading to Greece.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Brussels that the meeting is as focused on Turkey's future EU membership as on the refugee emergency.

He said "Turkey is ready to work with the EU, and Turkey is ready to be a member of the EU as well."

Davutoglu expressed hope the summit "will be a success story and a turning point in our relations."

The EU is desperate to halt the flow of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. It has offered Turkey billions of euros (dollars) in refugee aid, fast-track EU membership and an easing of visa rules to win its support.


11:15 a.m.

Hundreds of Calais residents are heading to Paris to protest against the negative impact of the migrant crisis on the local economy.

Ten buses carrying about 500 people, most of them working in local businesses, left the northern French port city on Monday morning to meet with Finance Minister Michel Sapin and representatives of French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee palace later in the afternoon.

The protesters claim that the large number of migrants in the makeshift camp known as the Jungle has badly damaged local businesses' activity. David Sagnard, a member of the delegation traveling to the French capital, said the protesters want to be granted lower tax rates for their businesses "to boost economic activity and employment."

Most of the migrants living in the area are trying to sneak across the English Channel to Britain.


10:50 a.m.

Britain's defense secretary says Prime Minister David Cameron will urge European leaders to make good on funds to help Turkey deal with the refugee crisis.

Michael Fallon told the BBC on Monday that Cameron will urge other EU leaders to deliver on millions of euros (dollars) in pledges. Fallon says Europe has promised the money and the coast guard there "needs to be strengthened and we need to do as much as we can to help Turkey."

Britain has pledged to back a NATO operation meant to provide information about smugglers to halt their actions. Fallon says the amphibious landing ship RFA Mounts Bay will use an onboard helicopter to provide data on smuggling routes. The information will be passed to Turkish authorities to intercept migrants attempting the crossing.


10:25 a.m.

Police are patrolling a square in central Athens to prevent migrants from setting up camp there after the site was cleared at the weekend.

Hundreds of people, mostly from Afghanistan, had been sleeping rough at Victoria Square in the center of Athens since border restrictions and closures were imposed by Austria and several Balkan countries last month.

Early Monday police were instructing those reaching the square to seek refuge at one of several shelters set up around the capital, while municipal workers were cleaning the area, using pressure hoses.

Refugees and other migrants have continued to travel to Greece from nearby Turkey despite the border closures, with 2,480 arriving Sunday, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

Some 34,000 migrants are currently stranded in Greece — with about a third of that number camped out in increasingly difficult conditions at the Greek-Macedonian border.


10:15 a.m.

Greece's prime minister is urging his European Union partners to finally put long-agreed migrant plans into action, as thousands of people wait on the country's border with Macedonia.

Arriving for talks with EU leaders in Brussels Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Monday that "rules are for all, and everybody has to implement our common decisions."

He told reporters that "if there are agreements that are not implemented there were not agreements at all."

EU leaders agreed in September to share 160,000 refugees arriving in Greece and Italy over two years. As of March 3, fewer than 700 people had been relocated to other European countries.

Tsipras said that Europe must "have a credible relocation process."


10:10 a.m.

Thousands of refugees stranded on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia are anxiously awaiting news from a European Union-Turkey summit that could determine their fate.

The leaders are expected to declare the main Balkan migrant route closed Monday, after Macedonia, backed by Austria, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary, limited border crossings to a trickle.

Although the flow into Macedonia has slowed, some people are still getting through. Greek authorities said 337 people crossed between 6 a.m. Sunday and 6 a.m. Monday.

One Kurdish Syrian family said they were determined to cross and be reunited with the rest of the family in Germany.

"Whatever it takes. We will go. We have nothing to go back to. Our homes are destroyed, we have nothing to go back to," said Lasgeen Hassan, 59, from Al Qamishli.


10:05 a.m.

France's foreign minister says Europe must reach a deal with Turkey over how to handle the influx of migrants and must rethink its own system of open borders.

In an interview Monday with FranceInter radio, Jean-Marc Ayrault said the European Union's system of open borders wasn't set up to deal with a major migration crisis and must be reformed.

He said that will entail protecting the EU's outer frontiers, dividing up newcomers who have the right to asylum, helping Greece and reaching an accord with Turkey. Those two countries on Europe's outer edges are struggling to cope with hundreds of thousands of migrants hoping to reach a better life in the north.

EU leaders are holding talks later Monday with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.


9:40 a.m.

European Union leaders have started arriving in Brussels to press Turkey to do more to stop migrants entering Europe and to shore up support for Greece, where thousands of people are stranded.

The leaders are expected to declare the main Balkan migrant route closed Monday, after Macedonia, backed by Austria, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary, limited border crossings to a trickle.

Ahead of the summit in Brussels, some 14,000 people were camped in Greece at the Macedonian border hoping desperately to be allowed to cross.

The leaders are set first to hold talks at 1130 GMT with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

A draft statement prepared for their talks says they will ensure "comprehensive, large scale and fast-track returns to Turkey of all irregular migrants not in need of international protection."