New move to solve migrant crisis

Pressure on to enforce plan agreed in November where Turkey stems flow in exchange for $5bn in aid.
Even during winter overloaded dinghies have made the journey from Turkey to Greece. Picture / AP
Even during winter overloaded dinghies have made the journey from Turkey to Greece. Picture / AP

The European Union and Turkey will hold a special summit early next month to push forward a deal to stem the migration crisis, European Council president Donald Tusk said yesterday.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels also unanimously opposed "unilateral actions" by member states after Austria said it would cap the daily number of asylum claims.

"We agreed that our joint action plan with Turkey remains a priority and we must do all we can to succeed," Tusk said after the first day of a two-day EU summit in Brussels.

"This is why we have the intention to organise a special meeting with Turkey in the beginning of March."

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany - the EU country that received the most refugees last year at more than 1 million - said the special summit with Turkey could take place on March 5 or March 7.

She said the EU "must see quickly if measures work" under the plan agreed at another EU-Turkey summit in November, in which Turkey agreed to cut migrant flows in exchange for 3 billion ($5 billion) in aid.

Pressure to enforce the plan is growing as EU officials say thousands of migrants are still crossing the Aegean Sea daily from Turkey after more than one million made the perilous journey last year, the greatest such movement in the bloc's history.

A meeting of the leaders of 11 EU countries with Turkey had been planned before the full summit yesterday but was cancelled after Turkey's premier Ahmet Davutoglu pulled out following a bomb attack in Ankara.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU leaders agreed "there was no alternative to smart, intelligent co-operation with Turkey".

Central EU countries which oppose admitting asylum seekers said on Thursday that they would push for further border restrictions in Europe's passport-free Schengen zone unless they see results from Turkey.

Central European states say the number of asylum seekers arriving from Turkey needs to drop from as many as 2000 a day to as low as dozens of people per day.

Juncker also said EU leaders unanimously opposed "unilateral actions" to resolve the migrant crisis after Austria said on Thursday that it would cap the daily number of asylum claims at 80.

Meanwhile, the European Union border agency Frontex said one of its maritime patrols rescued around 900 migrants yesterday near the Greek island of Lesbos as weather conditions have made the sea crossing more dangerous.

"We're picking up all the migrants we encounter [at sea] because bad weather and cold make the risks much higher now than in the summer," Ewa Moncure said.

The migrants were picked up by a Bulgarian ship working in Frontex patrols between the port of Mytilene on Lesbos and the Turkish coast, a distance of around 8km.

During the summer months, up to 7000 refugees and migrants arrived in EU member Greece every day after making the trip across the Aegean Sea from Turkey in makeshift or overcrowded boats, and many including children have drowned.

A photograph of 3-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, face down in the sand on a Turkish beach, shocked the world when it was published in September last year after his family decided to make the risky journey to Greece in an open boat.

More than a million people, mostly refugees and migrants from war-torn Syria and Iraq, arrived in the European Unon last year amid the worst crisis of its kind in Europe since World War II.

-AFP

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