KAPITAN ANDREEVO, Bulgaria — The Latest on the migrant influx in Europe (all times local):
Italy’s foreign minister says the European Union and Turkey can find a compromise to an impasse threatening the future of a deal to stop thousands of migrants from crossing the Aegean Sea into Greece.
The EU has agreed to provide Turkey 3 billion euros in 2017 and 2017, to fast-track EU membership talks and to ease visa restrictions for Turkish citizens in return for Turkey’s cooperation in stopping migrants. The visa deal, however, has stalled over Turkey’s refusal to meet an EU demand that it relax its anti-terrorism laws.
Foreign Minister Paulo Gentiloni said during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Thursday that the EU should be “open” to relaxing its conditions without “renouncing its principles.” He says the deal with Turkey had been successful in curbing the flow of migrants — and could be a model for tackling migrant influxes elsewhere in the Mediterranean.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu complained that the EU was slow in disbursing the funds to improve the lives of the nearly 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The foreign minister of Libya’s Western-backed unity government is urging European nations to find solutions to the refugee crisis other than pushing migrants to countries outside the EU.
Libya is embroiled in factional violence that excludes it from any EU list of “safe countries” for migrant returns.
But other North African countries have reached agreement with the EU to receive rejected asylum-seekers. Mohammed Taher Siyala criticized any attempts to “export responsibilities and burdens … as a result of illegal migration by dumping them on our shoulders and other countries.”
The influx to Europe via Turkey across the Aegean to Greece has slowed because of the EU-Turkey migrant returns agreement, while increasing from Libya to Italy.
Siyala was speaking Thursday at a Vienna conference on migration and extremism.
They have come a long way, spent most of their money on smugglers and camped in the open for weeks. For Afghan migrants stranded in the Balkans there is no turning back, even as the most likely prospect they face in the European Union could be deportation back to their country.
Thousands of young Afghan men remain in Serbia looking for ways to reach wealthy EU nations, despite closed borders and reports that their government in Kabul has agreed to cooperate on the return of its citizens that have been rejected for asylum.
Some migrants in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, said Thursday they have no future in Afghanistan and that the EU should let them in. Sulaiman Zazai, 18 says: “If they send us back, that will break our hearts.”
A new European border and coast guard force was officially launched Thursday at a checkpoint on the European Union’s external border with Turkey in Bulgaria.
The new task force, launched at the Kapitan Andreevo crossing, was built from the border management agency Frontex because national coast guards were overwhelmed by the refugee emergency.
“From now onwards, the external EU border of one member state is the external border of all member states — both legally and operationally,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship.
The service will have more than double Frontex’s staff and new powers. EU countries will establish a pool of 1,500 guards and technical equipment to rapidly deploy to countries facing heavy migration flows.
Liaison officers would be stationed in EU states with external borders to monitor movements.
Fabrice Leggeri, the executive director of Frontex, said the agency will be able to offer operational support to neighboring non-EU countries asking for assistance at their border and share intelligence on cross-border criminal activities.
Frontex has been unable to effectively control the external borders of the EU due to its limited powers and lack of sufficient staff.
The uncontrolled stream of migrants entering Europe led some countries to build fences on their borders, cutting off routes used by migrants to travel to northern European countries.
According to the EU, the long-term aim is to scrap border controls inside the bloc and to restore the passport-free Schengen Zone across the continent.
The new agency will be involved in efforts to repatriate migrants whose asylum claims are rejected or are considered a security threat. It also will be able to carry out border operations, including search and rescue operations on its own initiative, without waiting for a request from the country concerned.
Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.