The Latest: Erdogan criticizes Europe for returning migrants

AP News
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Posted: Apr 04, 2016 11:17 AM
The Latest: Erdogan criticizes Europe for returning migrants

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The Latest on the flow of migrants into Europe (all times local):

6:15 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Europe for turning back refugees on the first day that migrants were returned from Greece to Turkey.

Speaking in Ankara, the president reproached Europe for not letting "these people into their countries" by raising razor wire fences.

He asked: "Did we turn Syrians back? No, we didn't, but they did."

Erdogan said Turkey had rescued 100,000 migrants from the Aegean Sea and spent $10 billion on Syrian refuges.

Greece on Monday began sending back migrants to Turkey in line with an EU deal to combat illegal migration.

Turkey, home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees, is a major departure point for Europe-bound migrants.

The country has committed to crack down on smuggling in exchange for financial and political concessions from the EU.

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4:50 p.m.

Finland's immigration officials say that 11 Syrian refugees have arrived as part of a European Union deal with Turkey to curb illegal migration.

Hanna Kautto from Finland's Immigration Service says the 11 refugees, who arrived by plane from Turkey, are from three families. Officials said they were being housed at a refugee reception center before accommodation is found elsewhere in the country.

The arrivals on Monday were part of Finland's quota of 750 refugees it has agreed with the EU to accept this year. In December, the government decided to focus on helping Syrian refugees but Interior Ministry officials said it was not clear how many of the annual quota would be made up of Syrian refugees.

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3:55 p.m.

Refugees and migrants protesting Europe's closed borders have closed a second section of Greece's highway heading to the official border crossing with Macedonia, blocking all road traffic in both directions.

Greek authorities said about 100 people blocked the highway near the Evzones border crossing. The blockade was being done near the Greek village of Idomeni, where a sprawling refugee camp of thousands developed in recent months. The area had been a pedestrian crossing for migrants and refugees until Macedonian authorities restricted the flow, and then closed it completely last month.

Meanwhile, hundreds of refugees and migrants were continuing to block trucks from using another section of the highway further south near the town of Polykastro, where another impromptu refugee camp has sprung up at a highway gas station.

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2:55 p.m.

Greek authorities say the 202 migrants and refugees who had not applied for asylum in Greece and were returned to Turkey Monday from Greek islands included people from several countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Congo.

The Greek civil protection ministry said 136 people — 135 men and one woman — were returned from the island of Lesbos. They included 124 people from Pakistan, three from Bangladesh, one from Iraq, two from India, four from Sri Lanka and two Syrians. The Syrians had asked to be sent back themselves, the ministry said.

Another 66 — 56 men and 10 women — were returned from the nearby island of Chios, including 42 Afghans, 10 Iranians, six Pakistanis, five people from Congo and one person each from India, Somalia and Ivory Coast.

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2:50 p.m.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on police officers to show compassion as his country received the first Syrians turned back from Greece.

Speaking at the 171st anniversary ceremony of the founding of the Turkish police force, Davutoglu urged police officers not to "distinguish them from our own citizens."

A first group of 202 migrants were ferried from the Greek islands to Turkey on Monday as part of a controversial European Union plan to curb migration to Europe.

Davutoglu "will send some of the Syrian refugees from the camps (in Turkey) to Europe" as the first Syrians were brought across the Aegean to Turkey.

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2:25 p.m.

Three vessels have reached the Turkish port town of Dikili bringing 202 migrants from Greek islands of Chios and Lesbos as part of a plan to curb migration to Europe.

The Turkish coast guard escorted the first vessel, the Nazli Jale, to the port of Dikili. The Lesvos and Erturk reached shortly after.

A Turkish government official said there were "very few Syrians" among the passengers. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the issue.

The migrants were loaded onto buses but there was no immediate word from authorities as to where they would be taken.

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1:50 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency says returns of people to Turkey under a deal with the EU to manage the flow of refugees and migrants are so far "normal policy," but that the agency will be watching its implementation.

Spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says UNHCR staffers had previously spoken with those deported and they "did not express their intention to seek asylum."

She says Greek authorities have been overwhelmed in handling asylum requests and need help. Fleming said the EU-Turkey deal is expected to screen people who fear for their lives or "have a well-founded fear of persecution" if they are sent home or to another country.

Police on the Greek island of Lesbos on Monday began deporting people under the plan, which UNHCR and rights groups have previously criticized.

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1:45 p.m.

The Czech government is reconsidering a program to give asylum to 153 Iraqi Christians who were threatened by extremists.

This comes after 25 of those who came two months ago asked to cancel asylum procedures and illegally went to neighboring Germany over the weekend. They had seven days to leave the country and return home. They were not allowed to travel across Europe and were arrested by German authorities.

Police spokeswoman Katerina Rendlova says the group was arrested in Germany and the Czech side was informed Monday that they all applied for asylum in Germany, citing family ties.

Interior Minister Milan Chovanec said the migrants abused the goodwill of the Czech Republic and has stopped the program until further notice.

A similar problem occurred previously in Poland and it shows a problem Europe is facing to keep the migrants in a particular country. The refugees mostly want to settle in richer western countries, such as Germany and Sweden.

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12:25 a.m.

The first Syrians sent from Turkey as part of a deal with the European Union meant to curb illegal migration have landed in Germany.

The 16 Syrian refugees landed in the central German city of Hannover Monday morning aboard a scheduled flight from Turkey and were being taken to accommodation in the region, news agency dpa reported. Another 16 Syrians were expected in Hannover later in the day.

Last month's EU-Turkey deal aims to control the mass influx of people into Europe, many of whom have crossed the Aegean Sea with the help of smugglers. Returns to Turkey of migrants arriving illegally in Greece who didn't apply for asylum or had their claims rejected started Monday; in return, EU countries are to take in Syrians with legitimate asylum claims.

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12:20 p.m.

The Hungarian army says it is reinforcing parts the fence built on the southern border with Serbia meant to stop migrants from entering.

The army says it is complying with a request by the interior ministry due to the increased number of migrants being caught near the border.

Hungary built fences protected by razor wire along its borders with Serbia and Croatia last year, drastically reducing migrant arrivals from up to several thousand a day to a few dozen or less but more and more have come since January.

Police data showed that 553 migrants were detained in January, the figure rose to 2,398 in February and 3,401 in March. Last year, over 390,000 migrants entered the country, nearly all passing through on their way to Germany and other richer destinations in Western Europe.

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9:50 a.m.

The first vessel transporting migrants from Greece has docked in Turkey, putting into practice a European Union plan to stem migration to Europe.

At dawn on the Greek island of Lesbos, an initial group of migrants were escorted onto two small ferries by officers from the EU border protection agency, Frontex.

The first vessel, the Nazli Jale, reached the port of Dikili accompanied by the Turkish coast guard.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency put the number of migrants at 131 and said they were mostly Pakistani nationals. A Turkish government official told the AP authorities were expecting 202 people. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

A total of 50,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Greece following EU and Balkan border closures, but only those who arrived after March 20 will be detained for deportation.

—By Dominique Soguel

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Police on the Greek island of Lesbos have begun placing migrants and refugees on boats bound to Turkey, the first to be deported under a European Union plan to limit the amount of migration to Europe.

Under heavy security, the first 135 migrants were being escorted onto the boats as dawn broke Monday by officers from the EU border protection agency, Frontex, to nearby ports on the Turkish coast, under the plan which has been strongly criticized by human rights groups.

About 4,000 migrants and refugees have been detained on Greek islands since the agreement came into effect March 20.

On the nearby island of Chios, riot police clashed with local residents hours earlier during a protest against deportations planned there.