The Latest: EU nations balk at Turkey refugee fund
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The latest developments as tens of thousands of people make their way to Europe and across the continent, seeking safety and a better life. All times local.
A little over a week after promising 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) for Syrian refugees in Turkey, European Union member countries are balking at the sums the EU expects them to pay.
Luxembourg Finance Minister Pierre Gramegna chaired talks between EU finance ministers on Tuesday and said European Commission has been called back to the drawing board “to review certain elements of the budget.”
The Commission had promised Turkey 500 million euros over two years for the “refugee facility,” which is meant in part to persuade Ankara to stop tens of thousands of migrants leaving for the EU.
Under the Commission’s plan, Germany would pay more than half a billion euros, Britain just over 400 million and France 386 million.
Greece and Cyprus have been refusing to pay.
Finland has announced stricter immigration policies to stem an influx of migrants, including opening repatriation centers for the quick expulsion of those denied asylum, tightening conditions for family unification and cutting benefits for refugees.
The Interior Ministry says seemingly unwarranted asylum applications will be fast tracked and applicants returned quickly, including those arriving across the border from Russia, which Finnish officials have declared a safe country. Age tests will be conducted on asylum-seekers suspected of not being minors, and those using false documents will be liable for punishment.
The measures follow a similar tightening of policies in neighboring Sweden and Norway. A record 30,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in Finland so far this year, up tenfold from 2014.
A survey of Syrian refugees who reached Greece this year has found that half of them wanted to reach Germany, but over half would choose to stay in Greece if they felt they could get work there.
The findings emerge from interviews of 1,245 Syrians who had arrived in Greece between April and September, part of this year’s wave of migration to Europe that has already topped 900,000 people.
The Geneva-based U.N. refugee agency conducted the questionnaire — said to be the largest data set of its kind — and released the results Tuesday.
Half of the respondents said they wanted to reach Germany, followed by Sweden at 13 percent and Denmark at 5 percent. Two percent said Britain.
Some 37 percent spent under a month in a transit country — overwhelmingly Turkey.
The U.N. refugee agency is urging Jordan’s government to allow in around 12,000 people who are stranded just inside Syria after fleeing intensified violence, extremism and forced conscription.
UNHCR says the vulnerable, sick and injured people have recently amassed near Rukban and Hadalat in Syria. Some refugees have gathered on an earthen wall just inside Jordan.
The Geneva-based agency said Tuesday that it “recognizes the legitimate security concerns” in Jordan, while noting that the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan to the east has available capacity. The agency praised Jordan’s “tremendous contribution” by hosting about 630,000 refugees from Syria.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said that since early November, thousands have sought to flee intensified airstrikes in northern Syria as well as forced conscription, floggings, forced marriages and beheadings in extremist-held areas.
The U.N. refugee agency says it’s concerned about “the level of rhetoric” in the U.S. election campaign on issues like barring Muslims from entry or stopping resettlements of Syrian refugees, saying it could jeopardize an important U.S. resettlement program.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming declined to comment on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call a day earlier for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
She told reporters Tuesday the U.S. has the world’s largest refugee resettlement program, and Syrians are “the most scrutinized population.” She noted a two-year screening process before they are fully admitted.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said Monday that those who refuse to accept Syrians because they are Muslims are unknowingly helping extremist groups to be more effective recruiters.
Turkey’s state-run news agency says six children have drowned after a rubber dinghy carrying Afghan migrants to Greece sank off Turkey’s Aegean coast.
The Anadolu Agency said the coast guard rescued five migrants from the sea on Tuesday and were still looking for two others reported missing.
The bodies of the children were recovered. Anadolu didn’t report their ages, but said one of them was a baby.
The migrants were apparently hoping to make it to the island of Chios from the resort of Cesme despite bad weather.
Turkey has stepped up efforts to stop migrants from leaving to Greece by sea. Last week, authorities rounded up around 3,000 migrants in the town of Ayvacik, north of Cesme, who were believed to be waiting to make the journey to the Greek island of Lesbos.
A nationalist German party that has gained both support and criticism for tough talk on migrants is asking supporters for donations, saying planned changes in party financing rules could hurt its prospects.
Alternative for Germany initially focused on opposing eurozone bailouts but is now known mainly for opposing Europe’s refugee influx. Its founding leader was ousted in July and left, but recent polls have given it support of up to 10 percent despite the split.
In a letter to members released Tuesday, leaders said planned new rules will affect its finances for 2017, an election year, and could mean it has to return money.
The party has been selling gold to supporters to get matching public funding. Under new rules, that income would no longer count.