Athens - More than 1,600 migrants have landed in Greece since a landmark EU-Turkish deal on curbing the influx took effect, officials said Monday, highlighting the challenges still facing efforts to tackle the crisis.
The EU and Ankara reached an agreement at a summit on Friday aiming to cut off the sea crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands that enabled 850,000 people to pour into Europe last year, many of them fleeing conflict in Syria.
The deal, under which all migrants landing on the Greek islands face being sent back to Turkey, went into effect early on Sunday but the influx has continued, according to the SOMP agency, which is coordinating Athens' response to the crisis.
Since the agreement took effect, 1,662 migrants have landed in Greece, SOMP said, including 830 on Chios and 698 on Lesbos, two islands in the northeast Aegean which lie close to Turkey, SOMP said.
The continuing flow "creates a problem, and raises questions about the intent of all parties" in the agreement, SOMP spokesman Giorgos Kyritsis said.
The Turkish coastguard said it had intercepted 126 migrants trying to cross to Greece since Saturday, without saying how many had been after the deal came into force.
Officials have said it will take time to start sending people back, as Greece is still waiting for thousands of European staff needed to take on the daunting task of mass repatriation.
The EU's migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who is Greek, on Monday said putting the deal into action "puts great pressure on our country".
"But the country is getting into action... the reaction is positive," he said as he met Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for talks in Athens.
A Syrian refugee woman reacts as she and family members jump off an overcrowded dinghy after landing safely
A girl believed to be five years died on Saturday and 13 other migrants were feared lost overboard after their boat sank in choppy seas off the Greek island of Lesbos, the Greek coastguard said.
A second, exhausted group of around 40 people reached the island in a small boat following a traumatic journey from Turkey, having paddled through the night with their hands across 10 kilometers of ocean after their engine failed.
A local Greek man helps an Afghan refugee struggling in the water after he jumped in the sea without a life vest from a dinghy with a broken engine.
Refugees frantically try to jump off a dinghy to a rocky beach on the Greek island of Lesbos
An Afghan refugee kisses his child after arriving safely on the beach
Hundreds of thousands of mainly Syrian refugees have braved the short but precarious crossing from Turkey to Greece's eastern islands this year, mainly in flimsy and overcrowded inflatable boats
Afghan refugees struggle to swim ashore
An Afghan refugee holds her three-month-old baby girl Zainab after arriving at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos
An Afghan refugee jumps in the sea without a life vest from a dinghy with a broken engine overcrowded with refugees
A Syrian refugee collapses moments after arriving at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey
A Syrian refugee carries a child off a dinghy after landing at a beach on the island of Lesbos
Under Friday's deal, for every Syrian sent back, the European Union will resettle one Syrian from Turkey, which is hosting nearly three million people who have fled Syria's five-year civil war.
The idea is to reduce the incentive for Syrian refugees to board dangerous smugglers' boats to cross to Greece, encouraging them instead to stay in Turkish refugee camps to win a chance at resettlement in Europe.
The EU will also speed up talks on Ankara's bid to join the 28-nation bloc, will double refugee aid to 6 billion euros (S$9.2 billion), and give visa-free travel to Turks in Europe's Schengen passport-free zone by June.
All new arrivals are being taken to registration centres set up by the Greek authorities on five Aegean islands. Those seeking asylum will stay there while their application is considered by Greek and European officials, under the deal.
This makes it all the more important that sea arrivals slow, otherwise the islands risk being overwhelmed by the numbers.
More than 230,000 Syrian refugees landed on Greek shores this year.
Refugee numbers have soared since August 2015, adding strain on Lesbos island in Greece.
Migrants gather at port of Lesbos to board ship taking them to Piraeus.
Most of the migrants are Syrian refugees.
Greece is struggling to cope with Syrian refugees crossing every day from Turkey to Greece's eastern islands.
Violence erupts between migrants and police on Lesbos.
Refugees and migrants push each other as they try to board a bus following their arrival at Piraeus.
German police were carrying out checks on the Austrian border Monday following Berlin's stunning decision to reintroduce passport controls, as a new record migrant surge into Hungary raised the stakes ahead of crunch EU talks.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s dramatic reinstatement of checks on Germany’s frontiers marked a new phase in the continent’s migrant crisis and struck at the heart of the EU’s cherished Schengen agreement, which allows border-free travel throughout most of the bloc.
A Syrian refugee holding a baby in a lifetube swims towards the shore after their dinghy deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, September 13, 2015.
“Europe’s inaction in the refugee crisis had driven Germany... to the limit of its capacity,” her deputy Sigmar Gabriel told the Tagesspiegel daily.
Underscoring the scale of the challenge, Hungarian authorities said Monday they had registered a record 5,809 migrants streaming into the country the day before, amid reports that neighbouring Serbia might try to “push through” as many as 30,000 people before draconian new laws come into force.
Hungary is racing to finish a controversial anti-migrant fence on its frontier by Tuesday, when it will start arresting illegal migrants.
Barely five minutes after Germany reinstated the border controls, police halted three young migrants fleeing war in Syria, asking to see their passports.
“We have been walking through Europe for 22 days,” said 27-year-old Hatem Ali Ahaj, who suffers from asthma and was struggling to catch his breath.
“We thought that Germany was the only country that would treat us like human beings,” he said.
Facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, ministers from EU member states will gather later Monday in Brussels to try and heal deep divisions in the bloc over migrant policy.
Germany – Europe’s top economy which is expecting 800,000 migrants this year – had previously signalled it would throw open the country’s borders to Syrian refugees.
But the abrupt U-turn and admission that even powerhouse Germany cannot cope with the record influx has underlined the importance of interior ministers’ talks in Brussels later Monday.
The European Commission – the EU’s executive – last week unveiled a plan to redistribute 160,000 migrants across the continent to relieve pressure on “frontline” states such as Italy, Greece and Hungary.
However, this has run into stiff opposition from several Eastern European states such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka insisted his country would never accept compulsory quotas, saying the system “won’t work", while Slovakia said it would try to block any such binding measures.
Slovakia on Monday introduced checks on its border with Austria and Hungary, reinforcing fears that Germany’s move would lead to a domino effect.
But the Commission stressed that the German border decision “underlines the urgency to agree on the measures proposed by the European Commission in order to manage the refugee crisis.”
Justifying Berlin’s decision, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Sunday that “the aim of this measure is to stop the current influx to Germany and to return to an orderly process.”
Migrants must understand “they cannot choose the states where they are seeking protection,” he told reporters, as Germany also temporarily halted all train traffic to and from Austria – which restarted on Monday morning.
The hardline prime minister of Hungary, which wants much stricter controls around the edges of the EU, welcomed Berlin’s move.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key backer of the scheme, has said that realistically, migrants will likely not start being returned to Turkey until April 4.
The EU has promised 2,300 officials and police to help the operation, according to the Greek government, but as of Monday none had arrived, SOMP said.
France and Germany have offered to send up to 600 police and asylum experts, while Romania said Sunday it would send 70.
"We hope that the upcoming Easter break will not be a factor in delaying their arrival, because the situation calls for an urgent response," Kyritsis said.
Tsipras said implementing the deal would not be easy but he believed Greece would rise to the challenge, promising "the best possible mobilisation of the state's resources".
But he also said the success of the deal depended on slowing the flow of migrants and the swift arrival of personnel promised by the EU.
Rights groups and the UN have raised concerns about whether the EU-Turkey plan is legally and ethically sound, but European officials have stressed that each application for asylum will be treated individually, with full rights of appeal and proper oversight.
The deal also plans major aid for Greece, a country now struggling not only with a debt crisis but with some 47,500 migrants stranded on its territory.
The father of a 3-year-old Syrian boy, whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach in an image that shocked the world, said his children “slipped through my hands” as their boat was taking in water on its way to Greece.
Abdullah lost his three-year-old son Aylan, four-year-old son Ghaleb and wife Rihana in the tragedy.
“I was holding my wife’s hand. But my children slipped through my hands. It was dark and everyone was screaming,” Abdullah Kurdi told Turkey’s Dogan news agency.
“We tried to cling to the small boat, but it was deflating.” Abdullah cut an inconsolable figure sitting outside the morgue in Bodrum on Thursday.
He stared blankly into his mobile phone as he waited for the coffins of his family to be loaded onto a municipal van
12 Syrian migrants drowned on Wednesday when two boats sank in Turkish waters as they were heading towards the Greek island of Kos, in the latest tragedy to hit migrants in the Aegean.
But attention has focused on 3-year-old Aylan, whose tiny body was photographed washed up on a beach in the resort of Bodrum in an image that quickly became a viral symbol of the tragedy of refugees.
In a second image, a Turkish security officer cradles the boy in his arms.
Abdullah had been trying to cross along with his family and up to three other Syrians from the flashpoint town of Kobane that last year was the subject of a months-long battle between Kurdish militias and jihadists.
The Ottawa Citizen newspaper reported that the family had ultimately been trying to emigrate to Canada.
His sister Teema – a Vancouver hairdresser who emigrated to Canada 20 years ago – had sponsored a refugee application that Canada’s immigration authorities rejected in June.
“I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbours who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat,” the newspaper quoted Teema Kurdi as saying.
However Canada’s immigration department said there was no record of an application from Abdullah Kurdi and his family but only an incomplete form from his brother Mohammed Kurdi for his immediate family.
The administration has found “no trace of any request received from Abdullah Kurdi and his family,” the Canadian Immigration and citizenship department said.
Abdullah said the boat started to take in water shortly after it set off in the dead of the night, sending the migrants on board into a panic.
“The boat started to take in water 500 meters (0.3 miles) from the shore. Our feet were wet,” he said.
He tried to take hold of his children and his wife as he clung to the capsized boat, but they were quickly washed away.
“I tried to swim to the shore with the help of the lights but couldn’t find my wife and children once I was there. I thought they got scared and ran away,” he said.
“When I couldn’t find them in our meeting point in the city (Bodrum) where we normally meet, I went to the hospital. And got the bad news.”
He confirmed the family had wanted to go to Canada but now only wants to return to Kobane to bury his family.
A hospital official in Bodrum told AFP that the bodies would be flown to Istanbul late Thursday and then to the Turkish border town of Suruc before reaching their final destination of Kobane.
The family had been living in Damascus up to 2012 but been forced to flee the war’s instability multiple times.
Heart-rending pictures of a toddler's lifeless body washed ashore on a Turkish beach sparked horror on Wednesday as the cost of Europe's growing refugee crisis hit home.
The images of a tiny child lying face down in the surf at one of Turkey's main tourist resorts has once more put a human face on the dangers faced by tens of thousands of desperate people who risk life and limb to seek a new life in Europe.
Wearing a red T-shirt and blue shorts, the child - identified as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi - is believed to be one of least 12 Syrians who died when their boats sank trying to reach Greece.
The bleak image spread like lightning through social media and dominated front pages from Spain to Sweden, with commentators unanimous it had rammed home the horrors faced by those fleeing war and conflict in the Middle East and Africa.
Circulating with the Turkish hashtag "#KiyiyaVuranInsanlik" ("Humanity washed ashore"), the picture made it to Twitter's top world trending topics.
Scuffles broke out between migrants and police in Hungary on Wednesday as thousands were left stranded at Budapest's main international train station, while the government called for clarification on Germany's asylum regime.
As the number of migrants prevented from boarding trains to Austria and Germany swelled to over 2,000 at the Keleti station, according to an estimate from an AFP photographer, crowds chanted "No police! No police!" and "Germany! Germany!"
On Wednesday afternoon, the protesters, angry at reports of police removing migrants from the station to unspecified locations, ran up to a police line and began.
Traffic was blocked for around 15 minutes.
The officers were quickly reinforced by riot police, who donned helmets and after a tense standoff pushed the protesters back to stop them blocking the road.
No one appeared to have been hurt, and calm gradually returned by nightfall.
The standoff was the latest and largest of several tense encounters between the crowds and police following Hungary's decision to prevent migrants travelling west on Tuesday, after several thousand boarded trains bound for Austria and Germany the previous day.
Hungary's government explained the U-turn by saying it was applying EU law after confusion caused by an easing of Germany's asylum regulations and called on Berlin's embassy to clarify the rules.
Sporadic fighting broke out between migrants on Wednesday, while taunts from a small group of far-right skinheads sparked some scuffles.
Earlier, tempers rose when the police suddenly moved in to clear a pathway in the "transit zone", a makeshift underground refugee camp where thousands have been sheltering on blankets in cramped conditions, looked after only by Hungarian volunteers.
"My friends got on a train on Monday! Why the hell don't they let me go too, all of us?" 41-year-old Syrian protestor Ohlit told AFP in front of the station, furiously brandishing his ticket to Munich that he purchased Monday.
The EU's so-called "Dublin" rules oblige refugees to claim asylum in the first EU country they reach, but news that Germany had waived those rules for Syrians last week has sparked a surge in migrants trying to reach Europe's largest economy.
The German embassy told AFP that "Dublin" rules still apply, adding that "it would be very helpful if the (Hungarian) authorities communicated directly what the situation is to the people at Keleti, who might think they are able to go".
But Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, Janos Lazar, said it was up to the embassy to "unambiguously clarify" Germany's position on asylum-seeking.
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