U.N. view on the European migrant crisis? There isn’t one

FILE PHOTO: Activists from the Spanish Proactiva Open Arms charity place a life jacket on the Christopher Columbus statue after the Open Arms rescue boat arrived at a port in Barcelona, Spain, carrying migrants rescued off Libya, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – The European Union is not in the throes of a migration crisis, despite a “toxic narrative” and political spin, U.N. migration experts said on Friday.

Disputes over immigration have divided the European Union, with splits between and within governments about who should take responsibility for migrants crossing the Mediterranean. The issue threatened to bring down German Chancellor Angela Merkel and was a major factor in Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

“We consider it a political crisis, not a migrant crisis. The numbers are not that significant,” said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the U.N. International Organization for Migration.

FILE PHOTO: A crew member of charity ship MV Lifeline reacts during a vigil to commemorate migrants who have lost their lives whilst crossing the Mediterranean, in Valletta's Marsamxett Harbour, Malta July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A crew member of charity ship MV Lifeline reacts during a vigil to commemorate migrants who have lost their lives whilst crossing the Mediterranean, in Valletta’s Marsamxett Harbour, Malta July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

“We are concerned that the toxic narrative against migrants, to put it bluntly, be diminished, and people see migration for what it is. It’s a necessary part of the modern world, provided it’s managed. The issue is that people’s perception is that it’s out of control,” he said.

The numbers of people risking the journey across the sea peaked in 2015, but have fallen sharply in each subsequent year. In the first half of 2018, 46,449 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea, according to the IOM.

“This isn’t a crisis,” said Charley Yaxley, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. “But what continues to be the case is that a small handful of countries are bearing a disproportionate responsibility for receiving new arrivals.

“What’s needed is for European states to come together with countries in the Mediterranean region as well to establish a fair and equitable distribution of refugees and asylum seekers so that the responsibility is shared.”

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

EU tries to assuage German, Italian concerns on migration

A migrant, part of a group intercepted aboard three dinghies off the coast in the Mediterranean Sea, leaves a rescue boat upon arrival at the port of Malaga, Spain June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders will try to reassure Germany and Italy over migration at a summit next week as a stand-off in Berlin threatens Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition.

The union could take steps to stop asylum seekers moving on from the country in which they are registered and start deciding asylum requests at centers to be established beyond EU borders in the future, according to a draft summit statement.

The proposed steps come ahead of the June 28-29 summit in Brussels at which EU leaders will attempt to agree on a joint migration policy three years after more than 1 million people arrived in Europe, causing a crisis for the union.

Their joint draft statement is not public and its wording might change. But it showed the bloc is trying to accommodate a new, anti-establishment government in Italy, as well as Berlin where Merkel’s coalition partner issued an ultimatum for an EU-wide deal on migration.

If the summit fails to reach a satisfactory outcome, Berlin would issue a unilateral ban on refugees already registered in other EU states from entering the country, said the junior governing Christian Social Union that has the interior ministry.

German police data suggest any such ban could only affect several hundred people a month and hence would have no big impact on the overall number of refugees in Germany.

The EU border agency Frontex said more than 90 percent of current arrivals in Italy, Greece and Spain register for asylum there. Many still often go north, including to Germany. This “secondary movement” violates EU law but has been widespread.

“Member States should take all necessary internal legislative … to counter such movements,” the text said in an indirect response to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

The proposal came as the CSU faces a tough regional vote in Bavaria in October. At its home base, the party faces growing popularity of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has advocated harsh anti-immigration policies.

The AfD on Tuesday accused the CSU of copying its ideas on how to deal with the migrant crisis.


The EU has long been bitterly divided over migration.

The bloc has struggled to reform its internal asylum rules, which broke down in 2015, and has instead tried to tighten its borders and prevent new arrivals. The EU has given aid and money to Turkey, Jordan, Libya, Niger and other countries.

Next week, EU leaders will also agree to look into opening “disembarkation platforms” in regions such as north Africa to decide asylum requests before people get to Europe.

European capitals from Rome to Budapest have long called for such centres but concerns that processing people outside EU borders could violate the law have stalled progress.

“Such platforms should provide for rapid processing to distinguish between economic migrants and those in need of international protection, and reduce the incentive to embark on perilous journeys,” the draft statement of EU leaders said.

Italy’s government closed its ports to rescue ships and said it prefers to have Frontex working in Africa to prevent people from coming rather than patrol the Mediterranean.

The Libyan government already runs migrant camps where the EU pays the U.N. migration and refugee agencies to help resettle people to Europe legally or return them home further south in Africa, rather than have them try to reach Europe.

Despite pressure from Berlin and Rome, reform of the bloc’s internal asylum rules is stuck. Southern and wealthy central states demand that all EU members host some new arrivals but eastern states refuse leading to a stalemate.

In evidence of that division, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Tuesday that the CSU demand for border checks within the EU is unacceptable. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said separately on Tuesday it would be “very difficult to reach a solution” next week.

Otherwise, there is agreement on strengthening external borders and bringing together the border protection databases.

“So much progress has been made, we can’t let all slip away now. So we need to give key countries something to keep them on board,” one EU official said of the proposed text.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Ratz and Michelle Martin in Berlin, Steve Scherer in Rome, Robert Muller in Prague and Johan Sennero, Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Italy looks to put G7 focus on Africa, but other crises encroach

A general view of the Greek Theatre of Taormina, where leaders from the world's major Western powers will hold their annual summit, in Taormina Italy May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – When U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders of the world’s seven major industrialized nations gather in Sicily on Friday, they will enjoy a spectacular view of the Mediterranean Sea, but won’t get any glimpse of boats full of migrants.

A common sight off Sicily in recent years, the authorities have banned all migrant landings on the island during the Group of Seven Summit for security reasons, telling rescue vessels that pick them up at sea to take them to the mainland during the two-day meeting.

Out of sight does not mean out of mind. Italy chose to host the summit in Taormina, on the cliffs of eastern Sicily, to concentrate minds on Europe’s migrant crisis and to seek ways of developing Africa’s economy to hold back the human tide.

“Africa is very important for us. Indeed, it is perhaps the focus of our G7 presidency,” said Raffaele Trombetta, the senior Italian diplomat who has led behind-the-scenes negotiations on the G7 agenda with colleagues from the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France and Canada.

“We don’t just want to talk about crises, like migration and famine, but also to promote innovation in Africa and see what we can do to help,” he told Reuters.

But various other crises are bound to encroach on the meeting, starting with Monday’s suicide bombing in Manchester that killed at least 22 people and was allegedly carried out by a young British man of Libyan descent.

The six-year old Syrian conflict and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are other hot-button issues. Potential disagreements over climate change and free trade might also overshadow the event in the chic resort town.

Trump will face concerted pressure to commit to the 2015 Paris Agreement to slash greenhouse gas emissions and to water down his protectionist trade tendencies.

Diplomats said there had been no agreement on these issues ahead of the gathering, meaning the leaders will seek to strike an accord amongst themselves. One diplomat from an EU country said the other G7 nations might issue a separate statement on climate change if Trump refused to endorse the Paris deal.


Trump will be one of four leaders making their first appearance at a G7, alongside newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May and the host, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

It will be a second G7 for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a 6th for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the 12th for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“There are so many new leaders here. It will provide an excellent opportunity for them to get to know each other and hopefully have a relaxed meeting,” said Trombetta.

One thing that will change from recent summits is that the final communique will be much more concise – down from more than 30 pages last year to fewer than 10 pages this time around.

“We hope that in this way more people actually read it,” an Italian diplomat joked.

Underscoring the importance of Africa, the leaders of Tunisia, Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya will join the discussions on Saturday morning.

Italy had hoped to use the occasion to unveil a multi-billion euro project promoting food security, but neither the United States nor Japan backed it, so the scheme has been scaled back, a diplomatic source said.

However, Italy is determined to encourage a plan to sponsor young African entrepreneurs, looking for ways to strengthen the continent’s economy and dissuade people from fleeing to Europe.

More than half a million migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, have reached Italy since 2014 as smugglers took advantage of the chaos in Libya to cram people onto unsafe boats for the dangerous crossing.

The Italian Interior Ministry said on Tuesday more than 50,000 migrants have come ashore so far this year, a record pace for arrivals and up 46 percent on the same period last year. More than 1,300 people have died during the crossing.

“This is a thing that cannot be solved very quickly. We have to think about maybe 20-30 years. We have to improve the living conditions and take Africa seriously,” said Mathias Menge, who oversees rescues on the humanitarian boat Aquarius, which has brought thousands of migrants to Sicily over the past year.

(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer)

Germany must lift border controls, EU executive says

FILE PHOTO: Syrian refugees arrive at the camp for refugees and migrants in Friedland, Germany April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Germany, Austria, Denmark and Norway should lift border controls within six months, the European Commission said on Tuesday, hours after Sweden said it was also planning to end frontier checks.

Part of the European Union’s response to a surge of refugees and migrants in 2015, the bloc allowed controls in its passport-free area, despite concerns about the impact on trade, but EU home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said they should now end.

“The time has come to take the last concrete steps to gradually return to a normal functioning of the Schengen area,” he said of the passport-free area named after a town in Luxembourg and meant to be a symbol of free movement in the bloc.

“Schengen is one of the greatest achievements of the European project. We must do everything to … protect it,” Avramopoulos said in a speech.

More than a million people sought asylum in Europe’s rich north in 2015, mostly in Germany but also in large numbers in Sweden, straining the capacity of countries to cope.

A contentious deal with Turkey to stop Syrian refugees from reaching Greece and the overland route to Germany, in return for EU funds, has reduced flows to a trickle, although thousands of migrants still try to reach Europe from Libya via sea routes.

The Swedish government said on Tuesday it would remove ID checks on journeys from Denmark into Sweden. However, its policy was not immediately clear after it said it would also maintain surveillance cameras and x-raying vehicles passing over the border.

Germany has argued it needs the controls despite the fall in migrants coming through Greece and the Western Balkans to combat the threat of Islamic militancy in Europe.

Under EU rules, the countries were allowed to impose the emergency controls for up to two years in September 2015.

The EU executive approved six-month extensions of controls at the German-Austrian border, at Austria’s frontiers with Slovenia and Hungary and at Danish, Swedish and Norwegian borders. Norway is a member of Schengen but not the EU.

EU governments must now agree to the recommendations.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Francesco Guarascio)

German ‘godfathers’ reunite Syrian families

German godfather receives presents

By Joseph Nasr

BERLIN (Reuters) – Three days after an emotional reunion with his younger son in Berlin, a 71-year-old Syrian handed a bar of olive oil and laurel soap, a hand-made wall hanging and a box of pistachio sweets to a 56-year-old German he had never met before.

The gifts were from Aleppo, the city devastated by five years of war which he and his elder son had been able to leave thanks to the German, engineer and father of four, Martin Figur.

Figur is one of the “Godfathers for Refugees”, matched with the family by a non-profit organization of the same name that seeks sponsors to help Syrians already in Germany to bring their relatives here.

“During the war, the Germans – government and people – have shown they are closer friends of the Syrian people than the Arabs,” the Syrian father told Figur at their meeting, which was witnessed by Reuters. He declined to give his name to protect relatives still living in the fiercely contested city.

Tight border controls across Europe, stricter asylum rules, and an EU-Turkey deal to clamp down on migrant sea crossings to Greece have left many Syrians in Germany struggling for ways to help relatives still in their homeland make it to safety.

The arrival of more than a million migrants into Germany last year prompted the German government to tighten asylum rules, including a two-year ban on family reunions for those granted limited refugee status, making the situation worse.Martin Keune, the owner of an advertising agency, founded Godfathers for Refugees last year after two Syrian asylum seekers he was housing begged him to help them bring in their parents.

Keune was inspired by the story of his wife’s Jewish uncle, who survived the Holocaust thanks to a British couple who adopted him while the rest of his family were sent from Berlin to the Nazi death camp in Krakow, Poland, where they perished.

At Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport on Saturday, the Syrian father’s younger son Mohannad, who has been in Germany since 2006, held back tears as he greeted his father and brother.

“You look exhausted, but healthy and you are breathing and that is the most important thing,” he said, pressing his hand on his father’s arm.


Mohannad, 36, came to Germany ten years ago on a cultural exchange program and had been trying to reunite his family since 2012.

“When I started looking into laws on family reunions, I became desperate,” he said.

His net monthly salary at a Berlin-based charity for refugees is less than the minimum of 2,160 euros ($2,460.24) the authorities say a sponsor must earn to bring in just one family member. That is about the average net salary in Germany.

Since March 2015, the Godfathers’ group has found sponsors for 103 Syrians, two-thirds of whom are already with family members in Berlin. The rest are waiting to receive two-year residency permits at German consulates in Lebanon and Turkey.

The association can only sponsor Syrians who have at least one close family member, such as a spouse, a child, a parent or a sibling, who has been in Germany for at least one year.

It relies on crowd funding and donations from its 2,200 members to raise the 800 euros a month it needs for each Syrian. This covers rent, health insurance, and a 400-euro stipend, equal to what the government pays unemployed Germans.

The godfathers do not fund the Syrian newcomers directly but take on legal liability for their living costs for five years even if in the meantime they apply for asylum and are granted full refugee status.

Figur signed a “Declaration of Commitment” at the Foreigners’ Registration Office in Berlin accepting liability for Mohannad’s father, brother as well his mother, who is still in Aleppo.

Germany took in some 1.1 million migrants last year, and of the more than 470,000 asylum applications filed over that period the largest group were Syrians, making up 35 percent.

The influx has fueled the rise of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered three state parliaments in elections in March by luring voters angry with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming approach toward refugees.

“I can only encourage people to make contact with refugees, because only then will their attitudes change,” said Figur, a Catholic, commending Merkel’s courage in the refugee crisis.

A ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its main commercial center before the war, has held since last week, making it easier for father and son to leave by land to Lebanon and on to Germany, a 20-hour journey.

They know they are lucky and hope mother, daughter and grandson – who have stayed behind at the wish of the son-in-law – will be able to join them soon in Berlin.

They described the gifts to Figur as a gesture of gratitude for “helping strangers”.

“Martin Figur helped us even though he did not know us,” said Mohannad’s brother, 38, pointing at his “godfather” with a smile. “And this is what I want to do in the future, help others.”

($1 = 0.8705 euros)

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Migrant arrivals fall after EU Turkey deal

Refugees and migrants holding their registration papers wait to board a bus that will transfer them from a makeshift camp at the port of Piraeus to a newly built relocation centre in the port town of Skaramagkas, in western Athens

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The number of migrants entering the European Union from Turkey fell sharply in March, EU border agency Frontex said on Monday, as the bloc’s migrant return deal with Ankara showed its first results.

For the whole of March, 26,460 migrants embarked on the journey from Turkey to Greece, Frontex said, less than half the figure recorded in February.

After the deal with Turkey came into force on March 20, under which migrants can be sent back, some 3,500 people arrived in Greece compared to the 22,900 who came between March 1 and 20.

The agency said that stricter border policies by the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia had also made a difference.

However, the number of people trying the longer and more dangerous sea journey from northern Africa to Italy increased sharply, to nearly 9,600 from 2,283 in March 2015.

Most of those arriving in Italy were from sub-Saharan African countries with little evidence that migrants from the Middle East had changed routes, Frontex added.

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)

Syria sees impasse broken as EU urges engagement in peace talks

GENEVA (Reuters) – The head of Syria’s delegation in Geneva said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini had urged his government to engage positively in peace talks on Wednesday, and he believed the round of talks had broken the diplomatic impasse.

Mogherini arrived unexpectedly in Geneva on Wednesday, possibly highlighting concerns that talks on Syria risk getting deadlocked unless headway on the matter of political transition is made soon.

“She passed on a letter of support for the Syrian-Syrian dialogue,” Bashar Ja’afari told reporters. “She came to support us to engage positively in the talks that would lead to an end to the Syrian crisis,” he said after the rare meeting with a senior Western official.

Mogherini earlier held talks with the chief coordinator for the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), Riad Hijab.

Ja’afari told her he wanted the European Union to reopen its embassies and lift sanctions on Damascus, but said that while his team would return for a second round of talks in Geneva, he had told U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura they could not come back before Syrian elections on April 13.

Activists and diplomats said de Mistura was finalizing a document for delegates at peace talks that will synthesize common points of convergence, but is likely to stay clear of the divisive issue of political transition.

With a fragile truce in place in Syria, warring sides are more than a week into talks on ending the conflict, but government officials have rejected any discussion on a political transition or the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, who opposition leaders say must go as part of any such plan.

Speaking before the negotiations adjourn on Thursday, Ja’afari said he had received a document from envoy Staffan de Mistura.

“We will respond to it at the beginning of the next round,” he said, declining to take any questions.

The five-year-old conflict between the government and insurgents has killed more than 250,000 people, allowed Islamic State to take control of some eastern areas and caused the world’s worst refugee crisis.

The U.N. envoy said on Tuesday that he aimed to establish if there were any points held in common by the different parties. If successful, he would announce these on Thursday.

Randa Kassis, who heads up a Moscow-backed opposition group, said de Mistura would distribute a document of common points gathered from the various delegates.

Points included creating a future unified Syrian army to fight terrorism or ensuring a democratic and non-sectarian based Syria.

“I don’t think much has happened in this round,” Kassis told Reuters. “We’re waiting for a U.S.-Russian accord to solve the (key) issue once and for all. Until they resolve it this process will drag on.”

Jihad Makdissi, head of the Cairo opposition group, confirmed he was also expecting de Mistura to issue a paper on a potential “common vision” for Syria that he believed was on the right path.

“It covers many points important to the Riyadh platform, the Cairo platform, and the Moscow platforms,” he said, referring to the different opposition groups.

A Western diplomat said he believed de Mistura’s new document was an attempt to synthesize views he had heard from his various interlocutors during the round of talks.

The cessation of hostilities deal, engineered by Washington and Moscow three weeks ago, but not signed by any of the warring parties, remains fragile.

Asaad al-Zoubi, head of the HNC’s delegation, said on Tuesday it was “obvious” there were no points of convergence with the Syrian government and accused it of renewing sieges and barrel bombing campaigns against civilians.

Mogherini’s visit coincides with high-level meetings in Moscow between Russian and U.S. officials.

They aim to give fresh impetus to the talks and assess how Russia envisages a political transition in Syria, in particular the fate of Assad.

(Additional reporting By John Irish and Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky/Ruth Pitchford)

Syrian refugees denied critical healthcare in Jordan, Amnesty says

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Syrian refugees in Jordan are finding it very difficult to get medical care because of Jordanian fees and bureaucracy, and shrinking humanitarian financial support, rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

Many refugees cannot afford the fees for medical care imposed by the Jordanian government in 2014, and some, injured in the Syrian conflict, have died after being turned away at the border, Amnesty said in a report.

There are 630,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan registered with the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), the vast majority of them living in poverty outside the refugee camps, Amnesty said.

“Lengthy bureaucratic procedures and additional health care fees pose huge obstacles to those of them requiring medical treatment,” Sherif Elsayed-Ali, head of refugee and migrants’ rights at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

“The user fees imposed by Jordan may not appear to be high but are unaffordable for most refugees who are struggling to feed their families, and leave many unable to access the critical care they need.”

Refugees who have left the camps unofficially or re-entered Jordan after going back to Syria are not eligible to receive documents required by the Jordanian authorities to obtain public services, including healthcare, it said.

Falling humanitarian support has contributed to the problem, as only 26 percent of Jordan’s funding requirements for health had been met at the end of 2015, Amnesty said.

Some refugees with critical injuries have been denied access, despite a provision allowing entry for those with war-related injuries, since Jordan imposed restrictions in 2012 on Syrians trying to cross the border, Amnesty said.

The main reasons for refusal of entry were lack of identity documents (ID) or the injuries not being life-threatening, it said.

In July, 14 injured people, among them five children with shrapnel wounds, were prevented from entering Jordan and four of them died while waiting at the border, Amnesty said.

“To not even allow entry to people who are fleeing a conflict zone with serious injuries because they don’t have ID papers shows a chilling lack of compassion and appalling disregard for their rights to health and life,” Elsayed-Ali said.

Some 58 percent of Syrians with chronic conditions lacked access to medicines or other health services, Amnesty said, citing UNHCR figures.

“Greater international support in the form of more resettlement places for refugees and financial assistance would make a world of difference by enabling the Jordanian authorities to strengthen the health system and remove barriers that are preventing Syrian refugees from accessing crucial health care,” Elsayed-Ali said.

The Jordanian government was not immediately available to comment.

(Reporting by Magdalena Mis, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

UNHCR takes swipe at EU-Turkey migrant deal

GENEVA/LESBOS (Reuters) – The United Nations refugee agency dealt a blow to EU efforts to stem the biggest humanitarian crisis in generations on Tuesday, saying it would no longer assist in the transfer of migrants and refugees arriving in Greece to “detention centers”.

The European Union reached a deal with Turkey just four days ago aimed at halting the flow of migrants across the sea to Greece, but the UNHCR said the deal was being prematurely implemented without the required safeguards in place.

It said migrants were being held against their will at reception facilities in Greece, and it would not transport people there from the beaches. It will continue to provide other services including counseling to refugees, it said.

The accord crafted by EU leaders and Turkey specifically mentions the UNHCR’s involvement, although UN officials in Geneva said they were not consulted on that.

The deal, which took effect on Sunday, is aimed at putting new arrivals in Greece who seek asylum on a fast-track for processing. But it also means those migrants and refugees are kept in detention until their claims are assessed.

“Under the new provisions, these so-called hotspots have now become detention centers,” said the UNHCR’s Melissa Fleming.

“Accordingly, and in line with UNHCR policy of opposing mandatory detention, we have suspended some of our activities at all closed centers on the island.”

Those considered ineligible for asylum are to be sent back to Turkey from April 4. For every Syrian returned, another still in Turkey will be resettled directly in Europe, effectively penalizing those who have in many cases spent their life savings trying to flee conflict.

At least two EU officials said they hoped this shock therapy might work in ebbing the flow of migrants and refugees into Europe. One EU official said “ugly images” of forced detentions and deportations were something the EU would have to accept if it was to regain control of its own borders.

“Ethically we might have doubts. But legally we have no doubts,” another EU official said. Both made the remarks before the UNHCR said it was partially withdrawing its support.


Until Sunday, arrivals to Lesbos had been free to leave the Moria migrant camp and head for ferries to the Greek mainland from where they would mostly head north via the Balkans in a bid to reach western Europe, particularly Germany.

Now, they are meant to be held in Moria or one of four other centers set up on the Aegean islands of Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos, pending the outcome of their asylum applications.

As of Sunday, just two buses were available to transport the arrivals to Moria, one belonging to the coast guard and one to the police, a senior port police official said.

Early on Tuesday, 129 refugees and migrants who had been rescued at sea by a coast guard patrol boat and taken to the port waited for some 40 minutes for the buses to arrive.

They sat on the dock shivering, men dressed in thin trousers and jackets and women wrapped up with scarves. Many were barefoot and soaked to their knees.

One, a young man named Zalmai, said he had left Afghanistan with his five-member family.

“(There are) a lot of problems in our country. We’re coming for a better life,” he said, putting on a jumper given to him by volunteers and wrapping a thick grey blanket around his waist.

Using his finger to imitate a knife across his throat, he said: “I’m not going back to Turkey, to Afghanistan. Please, I’ll stay here.”


More than 147,000 people, many fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Asia, have arrived in Greece by sea this year, 59 percent of them women and children, according to UNHCR.

On Monday, Turkish monitors arrived on Lesbos to help put the deal into practice. On Tuesday, the Czech Republic offered 10 asylum experts and 30 police officers plus humanitarian aid to Greece, its state secretary for EU affairs said.

Under a timetable agreed with the EU last week, a task force of 4,000 people from asylum case workers and experts to arbitrators, interpreters and security staff should be in place by March 28. Of those, 2,300 should be deployed by other EU states.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. children’s fund UNICEF told a briefing in Geneva on Tuesday the fund was concerned about this new agreement and the implications for children.

“We see no mention of children despite the fact that children make up 40 percent of those currently stranded in Greece,” she said, adding 19,000 children are stranded in Greece and about 10 percent are unaccompanied.

(Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka in Prague and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Greece asks EU partners for help to make migrant deal work

LESBOS, Greece (Reuters) – Greece asked its European partners on Monday for help implementing a deal with Turkey meant to stem an influx of migrants into Europe, as hundreds more – many unaware of the new rules – streamed from their boats onto Greek islands.

For months the epicenter of Europe’s biggest migrant crisis since World War Two, Greece is struggling to effect the logistics operation needed to process asylum applications from hundreds of migrants still arriving daily along its shoreline.

Turkish officials arrived on the island of Lesbos on Monday to help put the deal into practice. Anyone who arrived after March 20 must be held until their papers are processed and those deemed ineligible are to be sent back to Turkey from April 4.

Late on Monday, a first group of 150 migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh were transferred – handcuffed and under police escort – from the island’s registration center to a passenger ferry that would take them to the mainland by early morning.

They had arrived on Lesbos on Sunday and would be taken to immigration offices in Athens, a police spokesman said.

Under the EU-Turkey roadmap agreed last Friday, a plan must be made by March 25 and some 4,000 personnel – more than half from other European Union member states – deployed to the islands by next week.

“We must move very swiftly and in a coordinated manner over the next few days to get the best possible result,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said after meeting EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in Athens.

“Assistance in human resources must come quickly.”

Avramopoulos said France, Germany and the Netherlands had already pledged logistics and personnel.

“We are at a crucial turning point … The management of the refugee crisis for Europe as a whole hinges on the progress and success of this agreement,” he said.

However, on Monday, the day after the formal start of an agreement intended to close off the main route through which a million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe last year, authorities said 1,662 people had arrived on Greek islands by 7 a.m. (0500 GMT), twice the official count of the day before.


Just after 4:30 a.m. on Monday, one coastguard vessel rescued 54 refugees and migrants from the open sea and brought them to the port, some of the 698 arrivals counted in Lesbos.

They staggered down the ramp, women and children first, one elderly man bundled up in blankets.

“Where are we going?” asked one Syrian woman who was traveling with her husband and daughter.

The group were directed to a coastguard bus that would drive them to the Moria “hot spot”, a center where new arrivals are being registered and their asylum applications processed.

“We are very tired. I want to go to my family in Sweden,” said Ahmet Bayraktar, a 32-year-old unemployed accountant from Aleppo, Syria. “We’ll try, God willing.”

Like others, he was unaware of the new EU-Turkey accord.

“We don’t know about this,” Bayraktar said. “We’re coming directly from Syria. Everybody wants to go to the border. We don’t have the news, we don’t have electricity, we don’t have anything.”

Two hours later, just as the sun rose above the Aegean Sea, the same coastguard vessel pulled another 44 people from the water. One woman cradled a baby just a few months old.

They walked silently to the bus for Moria, a sprawling, gated complex of prefabricated containers and tents.


Before Friday’s deal, migrants and refugees had been free to wander out of the camp and head to ferries to the Greek mainland, from where they would mostly head north through the Balkans towards wealthier western Europe, especially Germany.

Now, new arrivals are supposed to be held in centers pending the outcome of their asylum applications.

Under the deal, for every Syrian returned to Turkey, another would be resettled from Turkey within the European Union, a process which has already triggered alarm from human rights groups for being discriminatory, a violation of international law and one which could be challenged in court.

Some diplomats believe the accord could unravel within months because neither side looks able to deliver on its commitments, but that the need to get the migration crisis under control is so urgent that it was felt best to clinch a deal now and deal with shortcomings later.

The fate of the nearly 47,000 migrants, stranded in Greece when countries along the Balkan route shut their borders a few weeks ago, remains unclear.

Hundreds of migrants traveling from the islands to the Greek mainland disembarked on Monday at the port of Pireaus near Athens. They appeared free to leave because they had landed in Greece before Sunday, witnesses said.

Some migrants said they would try to reach Idomeni, a northern Greek frontier outpost where some 12,000 refugees and migrants remain stranded, hoping that Macedonia will reopen the border and let them pass through.

“I will try to go to the border with Macedonia within the next 10 days even if it’s closed. Maybe I will have to come back here, maybe not, but anyway it’s better than Syria,” said Hozefa Hasdibo, 23, from Idlib in Syria.

(Additional reporting by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos and Renee Maltezou; Editing by Louise Ireland)