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Balkan route closed, EU to declare

Greece-FYROM borders

The EU Ambassadors meeting

The Balkan route taken by hundreds of thousands of migrants to Europe is going to be closed, EU leaders will declare today Monday at their summit with Turkey in Brussels, diplomats and officials said over the weekend, after a meeting on Sunday, the news site  POLITICO revealed.

Their statement — to be approved by leaders today, Monday March 7— was discussed by EU ambassadors on Sunday afternoon.

“Irregular flows of migrants along the Western Balkans route are coming to an end; this route is now closed,”

according to a copy of the document obtained by the news site .

Der Standard leak

Two days earlier aslo, the Austrian Newspaper Der Standard claimed it has seen a draft of the communiqué which stated that the Western Balkan route would  immediately shut down and Europe would provide the necessary support to Greece to deal with the refugees and immigrants to be stuck in the country.

According to Der Standard, the draft of the communiqué included a readmission agreement with Turkey for immigrants who do not qualify for asylum. Also, Europe would ask Turkey to participate directly and constructively in the control of EU external borders in the Aegean Sea.

Moreover, the draft stated, Der Standard  revealed, that the presence of Frontex in Greece would be enhanced, particularly at Greece borders with FYROM and Albania, while among FRONTEX responsibilities would be the proper functioning of the hotspots, where refugees will be registered and being prepared for their relocation to other European countries. EU countries should have done more than they have committed to do at this moment by April 1, as it is stated. According to the same draft, Europol would also participate in the process being also responsible for dismantling the trafficking.

Roadmap to Schengen

According to the Politiko article of Monday 03/07 , the ambassadors’ meeting did not last long and ambassadors also endorsed the aim to “take forward, as a matter of priority all the elements of the Commission roadmap,” according to a diplomatic source, who added that the draft statement was not controversial. The migration roadmap, which was put out on Friday, envisages a series of steps for the return to normality in the Schengen area by December, dismantling the internal border controls reintroduced by some member states.

The new commitment to close the Western Balkan route would end the “wave-through policy” that allowed migrants to cross borders with minimal controls.

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Be aware of the other routes

The final statement stresses the need to be aware of other routes that migrants might take if the road running through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia is shut down. There are fears, especially in Rome, that migrants will try to travel north through Albania and across the Ionian Sea to Italy.

This scenario, we have to underline, would be the most nightmarish one for Greece’s tourism, paralizing at most Greece’s tourist attraction at the Western part of the country, the Ionian islands, where most of top world’s celebrities used to trravel especially on summer months .

EU on Turkey’s acceptannce

To help ease the humanitarian strain on Greece, where thousands of migrants are now stuck after borders were closed further to the north, the EU is counting on Turkey’s help.

“I am afraid we could have an intense discussion on that since some are complaining that the EU has been too soft with Ankara,”

said a diplomat.

The summit is intended to address the refugee crisis by making it clear that migrants will be swiftly returned to Turkey and that last year’s “open-door” policy, that made it possible for more than a million people to make their way to Germany, is over.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in his meeting in Ankara with Tusk on Thursday, agreed to step up the return of illegal migrants from Greece as part of a bilateral readmission program with Athens, another official said.

But hours after European Council President Donald Tusk left Ankara last week, Turkish authorities on Friday seized Zaman, the country’s largest opposition newspaper.An agreement at the summit still faces such political hurdles, in particular unease within the EU over a domestic crackdown in Turkey, politiko article notes

“On Monday, I would like us to agree that all available EU tools, including accelerated relocation, should be used to address the humanitarian consequences for the refugees, not least in Greece, in a speedy and effective way,” Tusk wrote in his invitation letter to leaders who’ll gather in Brussels Monday.

Davutoğlu, who will take part in the first session of the summit, also confirmed Turkey’s readiness to take back Syrians rescued in international waters by a NATO-led operation.

NATO-FRONTEX deal

NATO on Sunday reached a deal with Frontex, the EU border agency, on how to coordinate efforts.

“We welcome that Frontex and NATO reached a common understanding today on the modalities of their cooperation in the Aegean Sea,”

said Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, in a joint statement Sunday with the Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. 

On some days, as many as two-thirds of the 3,000 people coming into Greece are non-Syrians. The plan is to give these people a one-way ticket home.

The statement that was worked on Sunday calls for members to approve a humanitarian package for Athens, presented by the Commission on Wednesday, before the next summit of EU leaders on March 17.

Part of the effort to help Athens includes a speeding up of the existing relocation programs for 66,400 refugees from Greece that has largely been moribund, diplomats said. The draft statement calls for action to “accelerate relocation to alleviate the heavy burden that presently weighs on Greece.”

Diplomats said they were optimistic that a consensus will emerge at the summit. The closure of the Balkan route will also soften the problem of Austria’s unilateral decision to impose a yearly and daily cap on the number of refugees the country will accept, a decision branded by the Commission as a violation of international law, said an official.

 

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SOURCE : POLITICO.

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National panic in the closed borders’ vast hot spot that is Greece

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Chaos leading to  generalized national panic is the latest  update on refugee crisis in Greece by thousands arriving every day back to Athens from the closed Greek -FYROM border and some more thousands daily sent from the islands to Piraeus and then Athens, while the country realises that not only European solidarity  is a illusion, but more dramatically, that sharing of the refugee burden has proved to be a utopia itself .
“Greece becoming a vast camp”, Peter Sutherland, United Nations Special Representative for International Migration tweeted on Wednesday .
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced in Parliament  that from now on Greece “will not assent to agreements” unless all its partners are forced to participate proportionately in the relocation and resettlement of refugees.
The management of the refugee crisis by Europe has been disappointing,
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday in an address in Parliament, and urged European Union countries to honor the bloc’s decisions on sharing the burden of the  crisis, warning that  that if they did not, Athens would block future agreements.

Alexis Tsipras made clear that

“Greece will not agree to deals (in the EU) if a mandatory allocation of burdens and responsibilities among member countries is not secured.”

“Some don’t realize that the common rules either apply to all or they don’t exist,” he said. “Also, agreements are either implemented by all or they don’t exist. It’s shameful for the decisions taken by the EU heads of state to be annulled by some sub-gatherings,” he said, noting Greece will demand its partners “to act responsibly”.

“We will not allow Greece to become a warehouse of souls,” he said.

Addressing worries that flow restrictions at the northern border could swell the number of migrants stranded in Greece, Tsipras said he would meet political party leaders to form a common stance before an early March summit of EU leaders on the migration crisis.

 

NATO to send illegal migrants back to Turkey

Migrants rescued by NATO vessels in the Aegean Sea will be returned to Turkey, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said early Thursday after the military alliance finalized an operation to monitor the smuggling networks that help people reach Greece.

“In case of rescue of persons coming via Turkey, they will be taken back to Turkey,” Stoltenberg added.

NATO vessels arrived in the Aegean last week, and are carrying out reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance activities, the NATO chief said, adding that the alliance is also establishing direct links with the European Union‘s border agency Frontex.

Participating NATO vessels can operate in Greek and Turkish waters, but Ankara and Athens have agreed not to send forces into each others‘ waters or airspace, Stoltenberg said. The two sides are embroiled in a long-running territorial dispute.

He noted that NATO is uniquely placed to facilitate the cooperation and exchange of information between Greece and Turkey, as both countries are members of the alliance, while only Greece is in the EU.

Stoltenberg‘s comments came hours before a meeting Thursday of EU interior ministers in Brussels to discuss joint efforts to curb the migrant inflow.

On Wednesday, Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel  agreed to intensify efforts to implement EU decisions and start NATO operations in the Aegean Sea immediately to counter smuggling networks to reduce migrant inflows, while hours earlier,  Angela Merkel had a telephon conference with President Obama, and as well Francois Hollande  and David Cameron, where the four of them  agreed they were firmly committed to the Nato migration mission, noting the importance of Greece and Turkey working together and with the international community to ensure the mission’s success.

Four vessels under German command, including personnel from Canada, Greece and Turkey, were rerouted last week from another part of the Mediterranean Sea, according to NATO officials.

NATO agreed two weeks ago to help combat the flow of migrants to Europe in response to a request by Turkey, Greece and Germany. But work to agree the details of the operation ran into difficulties after Ankara signalled reluctance to take back anyone rescued at sea.

 

sources:: ANA- MPA ,europeonline

 

 

 

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#NATO officers arrived in Lesvos, flotilla expected tomorrow, while #smugglers warn they won’t be stopped

Smugglers: NATO won’t disrupt our networks

People smugglers in Turkey have told Sky News NATO’s warships will not be able to stem the flow of migrants and refugees heading across the Aegean Sea to Europe, or disrupt their networks.

 

Mohammed has been involved in the human smuggling trade for the last two years.

He said to Sky News, the gangs are too well organised and there’s too much money involved for it to be halted.

“The smuggling will not stop – as long as people want to be smuggled the smuggling networks will continue to operate,” Mohammed told Sky News.

“Turkey has tried to stop it but we the smugglers are well prepared and are always one step ahead.

“We don’t bribe the police but if one policeman or two finds out about our operations they will come to the smuggler and tell him we know what you are doing – then the smuggler will bribe him with a few hundred dollars.”

NATO says its mission will not be involved in rescuing migrants, or turning their flimsy crafts around and away from Europe.

 

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The German supply ship Bonn, which will lead the Nato flotilla heading for the Aegean Sea Photograph: Ingo Wagner/AP

 

 NATO ships expected to arrive on February 19th

Defence ministers from the 28 countries in the US-led military alliance agreed in principle to the mission and have asked officials to look at a variety of options for establishing patrols along the Turkish and Greek coasts and other smuggling routes. Several member states have offered to send reinforcements to the three-ship mission.

The Nato intervention is justified as an attack on human traffickers,

US defence secretary Ashton Carter explained. “There is now a criminal syndicate that is exploiting these poor people and this is an organised smuggling operation.”

The NATO ships have been ordered to the Aegean to begin the mission “without delay”, and are expected to be in place on Friday, even though the details of their role are still being filled in, said US air force general Philip Breedlove.

“This mission has literally come together in about the last 20 hours,” Breedlove told journalists. “I have been tasked now to go back and define the mission, define the rules of engagement, define all of what we call special operation instructions, all of the things that will lay out what we are going to do.”

He declined to comment on whether the Nato crews would join local coastguards in rescuing migrants whose boats had sunk or were failing.

The Bonn patrol

Nato has sent a patrol of three warships to intercept migrants trying to reach Greece by sea and send them back to Turkey, as Europe steps up efforts to contain the refugee crisis.

The Nato flotilla will be led by the German navy’s flagship, the Bonn, supported by Turkey’s frigate Barbaros and the Canadian frigate, Fredericton.

The German-led patrol will be backed by planes that can monitor the flow of people attempting illegal crossings.

Greece and Turkey have agreed that any migrants they intercept will be sent back.

“They will not be taken back to Greece. The aim of the group is to have them taken back to Turkey. That is the crucial difference,” said the British defence secretary, Michael Fallon.

“This is the first time we have seen a group tasked with returning migrants. That has not happened before. So that is quite an important development.”

The UK does not have any ships involved but is looking at how it could contribute, Fallon told journalists after a meeting of defence ministers in Brussels, where the plan was hammered out.

“It could definitely help save lives in the Aegean and it could help break the criminal gangs that are trafficking migrants from Turkey into Europe,” he added.

The NATO alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, initially denied that the ships would try to stop people from crossing into Europe. “This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats,” he said.

Germany’s defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, had already indicated she favoured a far more robust approach and had secured Ankara’s permission to send some refugees back to Turkey, the Deutsche Welle newspaper reported.

the smugglers network

For Turkey and its smugglers, the flow of people is big business. Each dinghy crammed full of desperate people is estimated to generate €50,000, the middleeastmonitor.com writes.

At night, when busses fill up far away from the coast in Turkey, the smugglers are let through depending on the fluctuating regulations, to make good business sense the article adds.

“The government cracks down on certain crossings, changing the flow of refugees to Lesvos; at the moment the refugees arrive on the north coast of the island. The Turkish government had a crackdown on smugglers from Izmir aiming for the south of Lesvos, an hour-long, lethal journey with faulty lifejackets and dinghies in choppy waters, so they find themselves capitalising instead on the five times longer and thus five times more dangerous route to arrive on the north coast. People have to pay €1,500 to risk their lives crossing the Aegean on a good day (many times more expensive than an official, and safe, ferry); when it is windy the charge is €500 or €700 at night, when the chance of survival decreases. This is how the smugglers capitalise on the status of extremely vulnerable people fleeing from war.”

Greece out of Schengen , not the solution

Excluding Greece from the passport-free Schengen area will not solve Europe’s migrant problem, EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Tuesday after meeting Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens.

“Let me be clear, excluding Greece from Schengen solves none of our problems,” Tusk told reporters

Council President acknowledged the crisis was testing European cohesion to its limits.

“For all those talking of excluding Greece from Schengen, thinking this is a solution to the migration crisis, I say no, it is not.

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#Turkey in, #Greece out of #Schengen option, plus #NATO patrols

 

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Alexis Tsipras answered to Angela Merkel via phone call, on her way back to Germany from Turkey, where she visited for a second time in less than ten days.

Through the international News, the Greek government had the chance to know, as official Greek government sources said, that Angela Merkel proposed to the Turkish Leaders the NATO ships patrols in the Aegean seas between Turkey and Greece.

On Monday February 8, Angela Merkel visited Turkey , second time in less than 10 days, and met with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayipp Erdogan to discuss the refugee issue.

Among the series of measures that aim to tackle illegal immigration,on which the two parts made a commitment,  the idea of deploying NATO ships to patrol the seas between Turkey and Greece, was also included in the talks, the Handelsblatt wrote .

Greece answered that even though Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had met with Angela Merkel and Ahmet Davutoglu in London last week , no such idea had been expressed to the Greek side.

The Greek Prime Minister firmly answered that

however NATO would be involved, this would be inside the Turkish sea territory , and that Greece’s sovereignty on its sea borders and water territory is undoubtful and undiscussable .

Ms. Merkel said in Turkey that part of a joint strategy would also be to provide a way for people to legally leave Turkey for Europe. Arrivals in Europe would be “controlled, legal and organized by us,” Merkel said, the Handelsblatt wrote .

But  Greece is asking for a safe corridor for refugees from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and immediate readmission to Turkey of those not seeking asylum or refuse voluntary return, as Greek Alternate Interior Minister said Monday February 8 night on a tv interview.

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Schengen Visa free: Turkey in , Greece out

While Greece is alarmingly threatened to be seriously kicked out of the Europe’s free Schengen zone , Ahmet Davutoglu last week was delighted to announce that the government of Turkey has accepted the deal from the European Union to help stop the flow of refugees to Europe.

This, to be noted, happened  after months of negotiations and deals, which include $3.2 billion in cash and, amongst other benefits a visa-free travel for Turkish passport holders to countries in Europe’s Schengen zone, option , as it is recently announced, on the same moments that Schengen Zone is threatening Greece, by accusations to Greece that it is not fulfilling its obligations.    

By this option on the table, and the 3 billions plus, that Turkey purchased from Europe, Ahmed  Davutoglu had called the move a “new beginning” in Turkey’s move to join Europe,” talking to reporters on January 31.

”Today is a historic day in our accession process to the EU. I am grateful to all European leaders for this new beginning.”

With 2.5 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey and tens of thousands amassed at the border fleeing Russian and Syrian bombings in Aleppo, Ankara is now Europe’s key partner in solving the refugee crisis, the Handelsblatt wrote a week after, on February 8, 2016, adding that

Chancellor Angela Merkel knows that, which is why she is making her second trip this week in less than four months to Turkey. 

As Angela Merkel had promised to the Turkish leaders since her earlier trip to Turkey, today it was announced that

 The E.U. also agreed to ease visa restrictions for Turkish citizens and to revive stalled talks on the country’s accession to the 28-nation bloc.

as Handelsblatt wrote on February 9, adding that in return, the Turkish authorities were supposed to crack down on smuggling gangs and work to reduce the flow of refugees into Greece.

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