Greece and Turkey intensify joint work on migrants
By Eszter Zalan
Greece and Turkey have promised to cooperate on a plan to send back migrants from Europe, agreed by EU leaders on Tuesday.
The EU deal, which includes €3 billion for Turkey, visa liberalisation for its citizens by the summer, and the opening of accession chapters, is still to be fully endorsed at another summit next week.
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Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras met his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in Izmir on Tuesday and signed several agreements to pave the way for the EU-Turkey deal to work.
Tsipras told a joint news conference that the EU deal “sends a clear message to migrants coming from third countries, rather than countries at war ... that there is neither the political will nor the ability to cross to Europe”.
“This is the reality we ought to sincerely convey to them in order to stop, to reduce, this unbearable flow for our countries."
So far this year more than 130,000 migrants and refugees have travelled to the Greek islands from the Turkish coast.
As NATO warships started to patrol the Aegean Sea to locate boats carrying migrants, Tsipras also said the two countries would step up efforts to tackle people smugglers.
Davutoglu added: "The aim here is to discourage irregular migration and ... to recognise those Syrians in our camps who the EU will accept – though we will not force anyone to go against their will – on legal routes."
'Death blow' to asylum
In the meantime, Slovenia and Croatia said starting from Wednesday they would refuse to allow many migrants to travel through their countries.
The Slovenian interior ministry said in a statement that only those who wanted to claim asylum in Slovenia or wanted to enter for humanitarian reasons would be allowed entry.
They would be assessed on a case-by-case basis, the ministry said.
“The irregular flows of migrants on the Western Balkan route has now come to an end,” Slovenian prime minister Miro Cerar said.
Only about 460 of the almost 478,000 migrants who have passed through Slovenia since last October asked for international protection in Slovenia, Reuters reported.
Neighbouring Croatia also said it would now allow in only refugees with proper visas.
“The border of Europe will be on the Macedonia-Greek frontier,” interior minister Vlaho Orepic said in a television interview.
The decisions effectively seal off the Balkan route used by hundreds of thousands of migrants.
Serbia's interior ministry responded by saying they would also restrict entry, adding that the country “cannot allow itself to become a collective centre for refugees”.
The increasing restrictions on travel have helped to strand some 36,000 people who were trying to cross from Greece into Macedonia.
The EU said the deal with Turkey was aimed at discouraging migrants and refugees from undertaking perilous journeys, but it was criticised by the UN and other international organisations.
The UN Refugee Agency is concerned that the blanket return of asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey breaches international and EU law.
Casting further down on the deal’s legality, human rights group Amnesty International said the plan “dealt a death blow to the right to seek asylum”.
The EU Commission said the deal was in line with international obligations.