The Latest: Merkel urges migrants at Idomeni to leave camp
BERLIN (AP) — The Latest on the migrant crisis in Europe (all times local):
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is urging migrants in the squalid tent city at Idomeni, on the Greek-Macedonian border, to trust Greek authorities and leave for better accommodation.
Thousands have stayed at Idomeni following the closure of Macedonia’s border, clinging to hopes the Balkan route used for months by migrants heading for central Europe will reopen.
Merkel said Friday after European Union leaders met: “I want to take the opportunity to tell the refugees at Idomeni that they should trust the Greek government and move to other accommodation where the conditions will be significantly better.”
She added that “from there, Greece will put asylum procedures in motion or redistribution to other European countries will take place.”
Merkel has said refugees don’t have a right to choose a specific European country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says a deal between the European Union and Turkey to stem the flow of people to Greece will hit the smugglers’ business model hard and send a “clear message” to dissuade would-be migrants to Europe.
The deal calls for Turkey to take back people who make the crossing illegally starting Sunday. Merkel said that means that “anyone who sets out on this dangerous route not only risks his life but also has no prospect of success.”
She said European leaders “hope that, with this, irregular migration will end in a short time.”
Merkel said of the deal: “The upshot of today is that Europe will manage to survive this difficult test, with all 28 (EU) members and together with Turkey.”
The Czech prime minister says that the European Union and Turkey have reach a landmark deal to ease the migrant crisis and give Ankara concessions on better EU relations.
Near the end of a two-day summit, Bohuslav Sobotka tweeted: “The deal with Turkey approved. All illegal migrants who reach Greece from Turkey starting March 20 will be returned.”
With the EU’s 28 leaders on board, the document still needed to be officially signed off with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who had negotiated the final wording on the agreement since early Friday.
Davutoglu said Ankara’s prime concern was the fate of almost 3 million Syrian refugees on its territory. At the same time, he was looking for unprecedented concessions to bring the EU’s eastern neighbor closer to the bloc.
The European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, has asked Albania to do more to reduce the “irregular immigration of its citizens” to EU countries, mainly Germany.
Avramopoulos, in Tirana on Friday to talk mainly about the refugee crisis in the region, called on Albania to work on more efficient border protection and information exchange with EU member states.
Since 2010 Albanians can travel to EU countries without a visa.
Last year some 66,000 Albanians asked for asylum in EU countries in search of better living standards and jobs. Some 55,000 of them were in Germany, making them the fourth-biggest group of asylum-seekers after Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis.
Avramopoulos said the Commission will include Albania on a European list of safe countries of origin, making it much less likely their request for asylum would be accepted.
European Union and Turkish leaders are closing in on an agreement to send thousands of migrants back to Turkey.
EU officials said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has accepted the terms of European leaders after a series of bilateral and technical talks.
The 28 heads of state and government must still examine a new draft statement and officially sign off on the deal.
The officials declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the ongoing talks, which would essentially see Europe outsource its refugee emergency to Turkey.
A European Union official has hailed Albania’s fast drafting of a contingency plan to address a possible influx of refugees, though there have been no indications they are turn toward such a route so far.
European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos talked on Friday in Tirana with senior officials on migrants and security issues.
Avramopoulos said “so far there is no indication that Albania has been affected by sudden large inflows of migrants, but we have to be prepared for all eventualities.”
Albania is cooperating with Italy, which will offer equipment and personnel to register refugees and monitor air, land and sea borders.
Albania’s regional neighbors Macedonia and Serbia have closed their southern borders, which could prompt refugees to seek other routes into Western Europe.
Serbia’s interior minister says some 1,300 migrants remain stranded in the country after the closure of the Balkan route for their passage toward Western Europe.
Nebojsa Stefanovic said Friday there are no new arrivals of the refugees after police and the army stepped up patrols along the borders “to prevent illegal entries.”
He says Serbia will accept any deal reached between the European Union and Turkey on solving the migrant crisis that has seen some 900,000 people fleeing wars and poverty transit through the country on their way toward wealthier European states.
Serbia and other Balkan states shut their borders for migrants on March 8 after Austria said it will no longer let them in.
Italy’s president, on a visit to Cameroon, is calling for foreign aid programs to help ease the migrant crisis.
President Sergio Mattarrella, speaking to university students Friday, decried what he called some Europeans’ opinion that “raising walls, erecting barbed wire fences,” can solve the problem.
Italy’s head of state said such thinking, besides being “morally unacceptable,” is “completely ineffective.” He advocated foreign assistance cooperation programs to help Africans in their homelands.
The Italian government has long campaigned for such an approach to encourage Africans to stay home and avoid attempting risky sea voyages arranged by human traffickers to reach Europe in hope of a better life.
Unless the Africans are eligible for asylum, they face deportation from Europe.
A small group of activists has hung banners from the walls of the Acropolis in Athens, to protest restrictions on the movements of refugees and migrants into Europe.
About 50 people were involved in the peaceful protest. Police said they were not called to handle Friday’s incident, and the protesters left shortly after the display.
The banners read “Open Borders,” and “Safe Passage Stop Wars.”
Although Greek authorities strongly discourage the practice, activist groups and left-wing parties occasionally use the ancient citadel as a prop for political protests, hanging banners from its walls.
Greece’s interior minister has compared conditions at a crowded refugee tent city on the country’s border with Macedonia to a Nazi concentration camp, blaming the suffering on some European countries’ closed border policies.
Panagiotis Kouroumplis told reporters he “doesn’t hesitate to say” that the Idomeni camp is a modern version of the Dachau camp operated by the Nazis in Germany.
During a visit to Idomeni Friday, Kouroumplis said the situation was a result of the “logic of closed borders” by countries that refused to accept refugees.
More than 46,000 people are trapped in Greece, after Austria and a series of Balkan countries stopped letting through refugees who reach Greece from Turkey and want to go to Europe’s prosperous heartland. Greece wants refugees to move from Idomeni to organized shelters.
The German Red Cross society says it is sending a mobile health station to the Greek town of Idomeni to help migrants stranded at the border with Macedonia.
The aid group says the clinic, which will be operated jointly with the Finnish Red Crescent, can serve 10,000 people.
The Red Cross said in a statement Friday that it is planning to run the health station for four months, starting next week.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says the refugee emergency is not something to be bargained over, as the European Union looks to send back tens of thousands of migrants to Turkey.
Davutoglu said on Friday that “for Turkey, the refugee issue is not an issue of bargaining, but an issue of values.”
He spoke as he arrived for talks with EU leaders. Europe is looking to outsource to Turkey a refugee emergency that has divided the 28-nation bloc.
Turkey will take back all irregular migrants newly arriving in Greece. For every Syrian among them, the EU will welcome in one Syrian refugee from Turkey. Ankara will also receive billions of euros in aid, visa-free travel for Turks and faster EU membership talks.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon says building barriers won’t solve the migrant crisis in Europe.
The United Nations secretary-general told German daily Bild in an interview published Friday that “building walls, discriminating against people or sending them back is no answer to the problem.”
Ban praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “human political leadership” in dealing with the migrant crisis and urged other politicians to follow her example.
He declined to comment on speculation that Merkel might be nominated to succeed him in the top U.N. role when his second term ends on Dec. 31.