The Latest: Turkish PM: EU refugee deal to begin Monday
Mar. 31, 2016
PIRAEUS, Greece (AP) — The Latest on the flow of refugees and other migrants into Europe (all times local):
Turkey's prime minister says a deal with the European Union stipulating that refugees who arrive on Greek islands from the Turkish coast will be sent back will go into effect as scheduled on Monday.
In a TV address on Thursday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says the method will not increase the number of refugees now in Turkey, because others will be sent to the EU. He also says "there will be no reason for the loss of life of people who hope and desire to cross the Aegean Sea to Europe."
The deal stipulates that for every Syrian returned, another Syrian in Turkey will be relocated to a European country. It aims to interrupt the smuggling of refugees from Turkey to Greece in what has become a lucrative business for criminal gangs and an often deadly journey for the migrants.
The Kremlin security czar has angrily rejected allegations that Russian air strikes in Syria contributed to the flow of refugees to Europe.
Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia's presidential Security Council, said Thursday that the Russian military action actually helped "normalize the situation" in Syria.
In remarks carried by Russian news agencies, Patrushev argued that "it wasn't us who provoked the regimes' change in the Middle East and North Africa." He added that "we have nothing to do with the conflicts and wars which erupted there."
Russia's air campaign has helped the Syrian army make a series of gains in recent months. President Vladimir Putin has ordered a partial drawdown of Russian warplanes, but said Russia will continue to fight the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida linked Nusra Front. ___
Greece's government has submitted draft legislation to parliament required for a landmark migration agreement reached this month by the European Union and Turkey to take full effect.
The bill, due to be voted on late Friday, would upgrade Greek asylum services and set conditions for refugees and migrants to be sent back to Turkey from the Greek islands.
The returns are due to start Monday, but most support staff promised by European Union countries have still not arrived on Greek islands, and the method of return is still being negotiated between the EU, Turkey and Greece.
More than 3,000 people who have arrived since March 20 have been arrested and are being detained on Greek islands. A detention facility on the island of Chios is already nearly 50 percent over capacity, with protests by detainees occurring daily.
Greek authorities say a fight broke out overnight between groups of migrants camping out in Greece's main port of Piraeus, injuring eight.
The coast guard said Thursday the three-hour fight, believed to have been between Afghans and Syrians, broke out at about 10 p.m. Wednesday. The aftermath was visible Thursday, with rocks and broken glass strewn on the street.
Eight people were being treated in a nearby hospital.
More than 50,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece after Balkan countries closed their borders to the massive refugee flow. Under a European Union-Turkey agreement, those arriving from the nearby Turkish coast to Greek islands since March 20 will be sent back.
Hundreds of those camping out in Piraeus were boarding buses Thursday for refugee camps elsewhere in Greece.