The Latest: Merkel: Protecting Greece's border a key EU goal

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Posted: Apr 07, 2016 12:12 PM
The Latest: Merkel: Protecting Greece's border a key EU goal

PIRAEUS, Greece (AP) — The Latest on the flow of refugees and other migrants into Europe (all times local):

7:10 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Europe is on the "right track" to deal with the refugee crisis.

Merkel speaking at joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande, says "I think that last year the difficulties were due to the fact that we weren't clear on how to protect our external borders."

She spoke in the French city of Metz, where the two countries governments were meeting.

Merkel says protecting the maritime border between Greece and Turkey is a priority because when it "is controlled by smugglers and traffickers. And if the politicians in charge cannot find a solution to it, in that case how can we talk about a lasting mechanism?"

Merkel also says the EU must implement the quota system to redistribute 160,000 refugees to its member states.

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4:05 p.m.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is donating award money he received for balancing the budget to Syrian refugees.

The Stiftung Marktwirtschaft foundation said Thursday that Schaeuble would give his prize of 15,000 euros ($17,055) to the German Red Cross to aid Syrian refugees in the Middle East.

While Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced massive criticism from members within her government coalition for welcoming more than 1 million refugees last year, Schaeuble has been one of her staunchest supporters. His donation of his award can be seen as a symbolic sign of support for her.

Stiftung Marktwirtschaft, which translates as Free Market Economy Foundation, said it awarded the prize to Schaeuble because he balanced Germany's budget despite the additional burden of taking in 1.1 million migrants last year.

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3:55 p.m.

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

Thursday's decision comes after 25 Iraqis who arrived two months ago asked to cancel asylum procedures. Instead of returning to Iraq, they illegally went to neighboring Germany over the weekend and were arrested there. Officials said they all applied for asylum in Germany, citing family ties.

Eight others decided to return to Iraq.

So far, 89 Iraqi Christians have arrived, and those who didn't leave may remain.

Interior Minister Milan Chovanec has said the case shows a system of mandatory quotas to redistribute refugees in European Union member states cannot be functional.

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3:30 p.m.

Greek police say they have arrested a 36-year-old man after finding 17 migrants hidden beneath a false floor in his truck.

Police said Thursday the man was arrested the previous day after being stopped in northern Greece. A search of the vehicle revealed the false floor, under which 16 Pakistanis and a Syrian were hiding in a space just 40 centimeters (16 inches) high. Authorities said the men had spent four hours in the space after being picked up from the Evros region, near the Turkish border.

Greece has been the main route for migrants and refugees heading from Turkey to more prosperous European countries

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3:10 p.m.

Scuffles have broken out between migrants and police in the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border, with about 40 people — mainly men — pushing police and demanding that the borders be opened.

More than 11,000 people have been stranded in Idomeni, an impromptu camp on the border with Macedonia, for weeks after Europe closed its land borders to migrants and refugees last month.

The protesters stood on railway tracks near the border fence calling for the border to open, shoving at police who pushed back with shields.

The railway line, used for freight traffic, has been blocked by protests since March 20.

More than 53,000 people are stranded in Greece since the border closure.

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2:40 p.m.

France and Germany are holding a joint government meeting to discuss the refugee crisis, counter-terrorism and Europe's economic situation.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and many of their ministers are meeting Thursday in the city of Metz in eastern France.

The fight against tax evasion is also on the agenda following the Panama Papers leak about offshore accounts set for the rich and famous around the world by a Panamanian law firm. Hollande has called for "strengthened international cooperation" on the issue and France has decided to reinstate Panama on its list of tax heavens.

The French and German governments meet once or twice a year to discuss common issues.

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2:15 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country will not implement a deal reached with the European Union on the return of migrants from Greece if the EU does not fulfill its obligations toward Turkey.

Under the deal, Turkey agreed to take back migrants who reached Greece illegally from March. For every Syrian returned, Europe agreed to take a Syrian refugee from Turkey to be resettled in an EU country. Turkey is also set to receive funds to spend on the refugees, visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and sped-up EU membership talks.

Erdogan said Thursday: "If the European Union does not take the steps it needs to take, if it does not fulfill its pledges, then Turkey won't implement this agreement."

The Turkish leader did not elaborate.

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2:10 p.m.

The Vatican is confirming Pope Francis will meet with refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos on April 16, a highly symbolic show of solidarity as the European Union begins deporting migrants back to Turkey.

The Vatican said Thursday that Francis had accepted an invitation to visit by the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and the Greek president. Bartholomew will be in Lesbos as well.

The visit comes as refugees are being deported back to Turkey under a controversial EU program.

Francis, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, has been outspoken about Europe's moral obligation to welcome refugees. A visit to a refugee camp by the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches could embarrass EU leaders already under fire from human rights groups.

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12:15 p.m.

Authorities in Greece say thousands migrants and refugees camped out at the country's largest port near Athens have been given two weeks to move to army-built camps or be expelled by force.

The warning issued Thursday came as nearly a third of the 52,000 migrants stranded in Greece by European border closures are refusing to move to organized shelters and remain camped out at the port of Piraeus and at the northern border with Macedonia.

At Piraeus, government officials and translators spent hours trying to persuade migrants to move voluntarily to a new camp in northern Greece, showing them aerial photographs of the site and explaining what facilities are available.

More than 4,000 migrants remain at Piraeus — an important site for Greece's vital tourism industry.