The Latest: Death toll in migrant boat sinking rises to 25
IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — The Latest on the influx of refugees and other migrants into Europe (all times local):
Turkey’s state-run news agency says the coast guard has recovered the bodies of seven more migrants off Turkey’s Aegean coast, raising the death toll in the migrant tragedy to 25.
The migrants drowned after their boat sank Sunday off the Aegean resort town of Didim en route to one of the Greek islands, the Anadolu Agency reported.
Fifteen other migrants were rescued.
The incident occurred as European Union leaders prepare to meet Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday at a summit to discuss stemming the flow of migrants traveling to Europe.
Turkey’s prime minister says there has been a drop in the numbers of migrants moving toward Europe, but acknowledges that the decline isn’t a “dramatic” one.
Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters Sunday before departing for a Turkey-EU summit in Brussels that the escalating crisis in Syria has meant that the reduction has been slow.
Davutoglu said he would take up the 3 billion-euro ($3.3 billion) fund that has been promised to Turkey to improve conditions of refugees as part of a deal agreed with the EU. The sides would also discuss the quota of refugees from Turkey expected to be resettled in Europe.
The Turkish leader said projects to be funded by the EU money, including the construction of schools and hospitals for Syrian refugees in Turkey, would get off the ground soon.
The Greek coast guard says that a total of 406 migrants have been rescued at sea off three Aegean Sea islands in six separate operations.
Five of the operations took place Sunday morning and the other one overnight, according to a coast guard statement.
There was no mention of casualties or missing persons.
NATO has announced that the alliance is expanding its mission in the Aegean to shut down the smuggling of migrants to Greece and into Europe, and said it included greater cooperation with European Union border agency.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the alliance will now be operating in Greek and Turkish territorial waters. He said Sunday that more ships will be on the way to the Eastern Mediterranean to add to the three already there.
Stoltenberg said France would be contributing one warship. He said the alliance also had made plans on how to cooperate with the Frontex operation.
The stretch of Mediterranean between NATO allies Greece and Turkey is a key area where smugglers have been bringing tens of thousands of migrants into the European Union.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says his country will seek an immediate relocation of migrants stranded on its soil at Monday’s EU summit and will call for sanctions against EU members that do not “abide by common decisions.”
Tsipras said that in facing a potential flow of millions of migrants, the EU is feeling the consequences of “unreasonable ... imperialistic interventions” in the Middle East that have destroyed organized states, an apparent reference to Iraq and Syria.
Speaking at a session of the central committee of his leftist Syriza party, Tsipras said “the immediate start of relocation...is a matter of utmost emergency.”
Hitting back at criticism by eastern European states over Greece’s failure to stem migrant flows, Tsipras questioned the wisdom of admitting these countries into the EU a decade ago.
Turkey’s state-run news agency says 18 migrants have drowned off the Turkish coast while trying to reach Greece.
Anadolu Agency says the coast guard rescued 15 other migrants off the Aegean Sea resort of Didim.
The coast guard has launched a search-and-rescue mission for other migrants believed to be missing from the accident Sunday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that Greece should work on humane accommodation for refugees “in lightning-speed.”
Merkel said Sunday in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Greece should have created accommodation for up to 50,000 refugees at the end of last year and needs to quickly make up for lost time.
Merkel also said Greece needs to get more support from the European Union during the current refugee crisis — which she said will be one of the main issues to be discussed at Monday’s EU summit in Brussels.
Thousands of refugees are stranded in Idomeni at the Greek border to Macedonia hoping to make it further north to countries like Germany or Sweden. But Macedonia only lets very few refugees enter the country.
Greek police officials say Macedonian authorities have imposed further restrictions on refugees trying to cross the border, saying only those from cities they consider to be at war can enter.
The officials said the restrictions imposed Sunday means that people from Aleppo in Syria, for example, can enter Macedonia from Greece, but those from the Syrian capital of Damascus or the Iraqi capital of Baghdad cannot.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on the record.
The restrictions were the latest move by Macedonia to slow the flow of refugees into the country. The rate at which refugees are being allowed to cross had already been reduced to a trickle and about 13,000-14,000 people are stranded in an overflowing camp on the Greek side.