The Latest: Greece says NATO is reducing migrant numbers

The Associated Press
AP

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest on the mass migration into Europe (all times local):

11:55 a.m.

A Greek official says there are early indications that NATO patrols in the eastern Aegean Sea are reducing the number of migrants traveling from Turkey to nearby Greek islands.

Dimitris Vitsas, the deputy defense minister, said expanded NATO patrols that started this week have put pressure on smugglers who have continued to bring migrants and refugees to Greek islands at an average of roughly 2,000 per day.

Vitsas told a state-run radio station: “Yesterday, we had about 700 people. So there is a strong eye on the situation.”

Turkey is currently in negotiations with the European Union for a broad agreement aimed at limiting the number of migrants crossing into Europe.

Turkey and Greece are backing a so-called re-admission agreement that would allow Greece to send back migrants who arrived illegally.

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11:15 a.m.

Still more refugees are arriving at the overflowing Idomeni camp on the Greek-Macedonian border despite the border being shut following a European Union-Turkey summit and a decision by countries further up the Balkan route to only allow through people with valid EU visas.

Heavy rain Wednesday increased the misery of up to 14,000 people in the camp, which long ago surpassed capacity, leaving thousands to pitch small tents donated by aid groups in surrounding fields and along railway tracks.

Yet despite the border closure and increasingly poor conditions, dozens of new arrivals were walking the more than 15 kilometer (10 miles) from a nearby petrol station, men, women and children using flimsy colored ponchos to ward off the worst of the rain and humidity to reach Europe’s largest refugee bottleneck.

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11:10 a.m.

A senior European parliamentarian who is a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party says Turkey should not become a member of the European Union.

European People’s Party chief Manfred Weber said Wednesday that the center-right bloc “is very skeptical about the idea of membership for Turkey. We actually don’t think that’s positive for either side.”

Turkey has demanded fast-track EU membership talks, an easing of visa rules for Turkish citizens and some 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) to help Europe manage its refugee emergency.

The EPP is the biggest group in the parliament.

Echoing Merkel’s position from the past that a “privileged partnership” would be better, Weber said “if Turkey wants a partnership with us then it’s important to make sure that Turkey doesn’t turn away from Europe.”

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