BERLIN (AP) — The Latest on the continuing issues of mass migration to Europe (all times local).
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says German chancellor Angela Merkel is "morally & politically correct" in supporting asylum for migrants who qualify.
p>Ayrault said in an interview broadcast by iTele TV Thursday that "we must remain faithful to our principles & the right to asylum is a commitment that our democratic nations have signed & must be respected."
Ayrault, who was in Egypt, said nations must moreover have the "courage" to refuse to open their doors to economic migrants if the country in question cannot absorb them.
Asked approximately Merkel's welcome of migrants to Germany, the French minister said that "I think when she focuses on this principle of the right to asylum, she is morally & politically correct."
Worrying approximately the migrant flux is legitimate & efforts must focus on saving the borderless Schengen space.
US Assistant Secretary of State for European & Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, second right, vis …
A refugee boy walks in the rain among tents in an improvised camp on the border line between Macedon …
A child waits along with adults for hot soup rations, during heavy rain at the northern Greek border …
A migrant watches as others wait in line for hot soup rations during a heavy rain at the northern Gr …
Chinese artist & activist Ai Weiwei wipes water from his face during a rainfall while visiting the …
Greece says it has deported 81 economic migrants from Pakistan & north Africa back to Turkey.
A Greek police statement released Thursday reports that 61 Pakistanis, seven Algerians & 13 Moroccans were picked up by Turkish authorities at a border crossing. All had entered Greece illegally from Turkey.
The police statement says Turkey refused to take in another nine north Africans due to problems with their documentation, yet did not provide further details.
About 132,000 people have reached Greece from Turkey this year, in flimsy smugglers' boats. Most were refugees from Syria, Afghanistan & Iraq.
Refugees & migrants sit outside their tents at the Athens' port of Piraeus on Thursday, March …
The NATO secretary-general says the alliance now has five warships deployed in the Aegean Sea as part of joint efforts with the European Union to stop the smuggling of migrants to Europe, with the focal point of operations a Greek island just five miles (nine kilometers) from Turkey.
"We have started to focus on the area around the Greek island of Lesbos," Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference Thursday. He added: "We are planning to move further south in the coming days & weeks."
NATO & the EU on Sunday agreed to step up cooperative efforts to shut down the human smugglers, with NATO sending vessels into Greek & Turkish territorial waters & coordinating its monitoring & intelligence-gathering actions with the EU's border agency Frontex.
"There are now five ships in the area," Stoltenberg told reporters after holding talks with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. "There will be more ships in the coming days. And we moreover have helicopters on most of the ships, so we are increasing the presence of NATO vessels with modern equipment, advanced capabilities," to support EU efforts to end human trafficking in the Aegean.
Migrants queue for food portions at the Greek border camp near Idomeni, Thursday, March 10, 2016. Af …
The German Embassy in Tirana says that 806 Albanians were repatriated from Germany last week after their asylum requests were rejected.
An embassy statement said Thursday that the number of Albanian deportations from Germany this year is approximately 3,400, part of a total of 55,000 who asked for asylum in 2015.
Last year, Albanians were the fourth-biggest group of asylum-seekers in Germany after Syrians, Afghans & Iraqis, in search of better living standards & jobs.
Other people from western Balkan nations like Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia & Macedonia moreover have sought asylum in Germany, yet Berlin considers them to be safe countries where individuals are unlikely to face the kind of persecution that would warrant asylum.
A Syrian refugee walks in the rain among tents in an improvised camp on the border line between Mace …
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has toured the overcrowded refugee camp at the Idomeni crossing on Greece's northern border with Macedonia.
Nuland met Thursday with local government officials & representatives of non-governmental organizations to discuss living conditions at the site.
About 14,000 people are camped in the mud at Idomeni, or housed in an overflowing official camp, hoping that Macedonia will allow them to continue their trek north to central Europe. Greek authorities have urged the refugees to move to other organized shelters in northern Greece, as there is no immediate prospect of the border reopening.
Nuland moreover visited the Macedonian side of the crossing, speaking to Macedonian officials & police personnel from Slovenia, Serbia & other countries helping Macedonia patrol its border.
A migrant carries a mattress at the Greek border camp near Idomeni, Thursday, March 10, 2016. Northb …
Athens municipal authorities are pledging to expand the Greek capital's refugee shelter capacity, while extra accommodation will be provided in a seaside children's summer camp.
About 10,000 refugees & migrants are living in shelters in & around Athens, most of which are operating at full capacity.
Mayor Giorgos Kaminis said Thursday that city authorities are providing an additional plot that will allow the expansion of the central Elaionas shelter, where approximately 700 migrants live in prefabricated houses.
Kaminis said municipal authorities "will not accept" the creation of informal camps in city parks, squares & streets, where migrants have camped in the past.
Syrian refugees stand in the rain between tents covered with thermal blankets & waterproofs in an …
He moreover appealed for greater central government support, saying that securing humane living conditions for migrants must be balanced with maintaining standards for Athenians.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has renewed her criticism of other European countries' moves to shut borders to migrants, which she says won't create a sustainable solution.
Austria's decision to impose a cap on refugee numbers set off a chain of border closures that shut the Balkan route used by migrants to trek to central Europe.
Merkel told MDR radio in an interview broadcast Thursday: "This unilateral decision by Austria & subsequently by the Balkan countries on one hand brings us fewer refugees, yet on the other hand puts Greece in a very difficult situation. And this situation is not durable & sustainable."
Chinese artist & activist Ai Weiwei stands between tents while visiting the Greek border camp near …
She added: "the problem is not solved by one (country) making a decision; it must be a decision that is right for all 28."
The European Union says 23 of its member countries must start taking 6,000 refugees each month from Greece & Italy to ease Europe's migrant burden.
EU nations committed in September to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece & Italy over two years to ease their burden, yet seven months on fewer than 900 people have actually been shared.
The scheme is key to managing the migrant influx, & the EU's top migration official, Dmitris Avramopoulos, said Thursday that "if relocation does not work then the whole system will collapse."
A child tries to warm his hands, backdropped by Germany's flag as protesting migrants stage a si …
Authorities in Macedonia say 472 people, mostly from Syria, remain stranded in no man's land on the border with Serbia for a third day as a dispute between the two countries continued over which side should provide shelter for them.
The United Nations refugee agency on Thursday said more than half of those stranded are children & described the conditions they are living under as "alarming," with migrants sleeping in small tents in a muddy field between two countries.
Austria & Balkan countries on the route from Greece to northern Europe began imposing border restrictions for migrants last month & halted crossings completely this week, following a meeting of leaders from the European Union & Turkey.
A child walks by large puddles with rations of hot soup, during a heavy rain downpour at the norther …
The U.N. human rights chief is denouncing a growing "race to repel" migrants & refugees by some European governments, & says he plans to raise his concerns in Brussels before a European Union summit next week.
In his annual report to the Human Rights Council, Zeid Raad al-Hussein said a draft EU-Turkey agreement on handling the migration crisis announced this week raises serious concerns, including "the potential for collective & arbitrary expulsions" from the bloc.
Zeid used Thursday's broad-ranging speech to chronicle concerns on issues including some 300 reported police killings of African-Americans in the United States last year; "signals" that Russia wants to close the U.N. human rights office there; ongoing violence in Burundi, Syria, Libya, Yemen & South Sudan; & arrests of lawyers & activists in China.
As the European Union tries to send thousands of migrants back to Turkey & close the Balkans route many use, concern is mounting that people desperate to find sanctuary or jobs in Europe are already using smugglers to find other paths in.
Albania, Hungary, Bulgaria & Romania are alternative tracks, government ministers & experts confirm, & Spain is in contact with Algeria & Morocco to try to stop new routes opening from there.
"We must not let our guard down. We have to be careful," Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz warned Thursday as he arrived for talks with his EU counterparts in Brussels.
Migrants take shelter under a plastic sheet at the Greek border camp near Idomeni, Wednesday, March …
The Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development is warning that the cost of the refugee crisis could injure Greek efforts to pull out of recession.
The Paris-based organization said in a report Thursday that the addition burden could pose risks for the "fragile state of the economic recovery."
The report said the preliminary cost is estimated at around 0.35 percent of gross domestic product in 2015. It added that the "foreseen contribution of the European Union turns out to be insufficient, it would result in added pressure on the Greek budget."
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria was in Athens Thursday to meet Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Gurria said the OECD expects the Greek economy to grow by 1.9 percent next year after years of recession & flat growth.
Muddy conditions after three days of rain at a refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border have left many struggling to re-pitch their small camping tents in the deteriorating conditions.
Consequently, dozens of refugees were boarding buses Thursday to centers in Athens or taking taxis to nearby camps.
About 14,000 people are stranded at the camp at Idomeni, with some migrants digging trenches to try to drain away muddy pools scattered throughout the fields.
Thousands of people have pitched tents donated by aid agencies in nearby fields & among railway lines. The crossing into Macedonia has been shut since Monday morning, & European officials have said the western Balkan route along which tens of thousands of migrants & refugees had passed over the past year is now closed.
Turkey's European Union affairs minister says a proposed deal with the EU on the return of refugees to Turkey will apply only to migrants who arrive in Greece after the agreement has come into effect.
Volkan Bozkir told the state-run Anadolu Agency on Thursday that the deal does not apply to migrants who are currently on the Greek islands.
The EU & Turkey have agreed on the outlines of a deal that would send thousands of irregular migrants back to Turkey. In return, the EU would take an equal number of Syrian refugees in Turkey. The deal could be finalized at an EU summit next week.
Bozkir said the number of migrants that Turkey will take back would be "thousands" rather than "hundreds of thousands or millions."
Austria's interior minister says refugees stuck at Greece's border with Macedonia must understand that they have no chance of crossing. Johanna Mikl-Leitner told reporters in Brussels that "the most honest thing is to tell the refugees: it's impossible to obtain through the Balkan route anymore. The Balkan route is closed." She says: "The biggest problem is that these refugees still have hopes & expectations, & these hopes are being constantly fed."
Mikl-Leitner said it is significant to warn that the Balkan migrant route into Europe is closed because, she says, "that way you do not feed any hopes & expectations."
In recent months hundreds of thousands of people have traveled the route north from Greece hoping to settle in places like Germany or Scandinavia.
Authorities in northern Greece say some 70 children living at a camp on the Greek-Macedonian border have received hospital treatment over the past three days, for fever & diarrhea.
Some 14,000 people are camped out near the border town of Idomeni, many in small tents normally used by summer vacationers. Torrential rain has added to the desperate conditions at the site, with tents sinking in mud & soaked firewood making it impossible to start camp fires.
Government health experts at the camp say there is no sign yet of an infectious disease outbreak, yet have been urging refugees at Idomeni to move to nearby army-built shelters.
At the nation's main port of Piraeus, near Athens, authorities began transporting hundreds of migrants & refugees to shelters in central Greece to try to ease overcrowding there.
The government says nearly 42,000 people are stranded in Greece following border restrictions & closures by Austria & several Balkan countries that started last month.
Turkey's state-run agency says five migrants, including a 3-month-old baby, drowned when a speed boat taking them to Greece sank. The Anadolu Agency says the boat went down early on Thursday off Turkey's western coast, on its way to the Greek island of Lesbos.
The agency said nine people were rescued from the boat that was carrying Afghan & Iranian migrants.
Politics & GovernmentImmigration IssuesEuropean UnionAngela MerkelGermanyTurkey
Source: “Associated Press”