The Latest: Tensions high among migrants at Greek border


BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest on the migration crisis as leaders from the EU and Turkey meet in Brussels (all times local):

1:20 p.m.

Tensions are high among the more than 13,000 migrants who are stranded at the Greek-Macedonian border as they await a decision at the EU summit in Brussels that could determine their fate.

Hassan Sheikho, a Syrian refugee who is one of the first in line to cross into Macedonia, says “the whole world will be in chaos,” if “they don’t take all the people here and settle us down.”

He urged leaders Monday to “solve the crisis in Syria and we’ll go back, otherwise, make your decision and we’ll be ready.”

Cold weather, unhygienic living conditions and limited supplies of food and water are already putting pressure on the refugees and other migrants at the camp in Idomeni. Now they may also need to face the possibility of the Balkan route ahead being shut for good.

UNHCR spokesman, Babar Baloch, told the AP that for most of the refugees at the camp, there hasn’t been much movement anyway. He said they “need an answer, a quick answer.”

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1:00 p.m.

About 150 migrants have abandoned a squalid, mud-filled camp in northern France to move into wooden sheds with access to showers and other facilities built by Doctors Without Borders.

The move is part of efforts to improve conditions for thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa who have converged on northern France in hopes of sneaking across the English Channel to Britain.

The aid group’s spokesman, Samuel Hanryon, says three buses brought about 150 migrants from the camp in Grande-Synthe to the new site Monday. Hundreds more are expected to arrive in coming days from the camp, which currently houses about 1,050 people including 74 children.

A small number of the new arrivals had travelled from a camp in the nearby city of Calais, where authorities are evacuating a tent camp that had become a flashpoint in Europe’s migrant crisis.

Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, built the new 2.5 million-euro site, including 4-person sheds and access to toilets, kitchens and electricity.

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12:55 p.m.

Greece’s government says it’s planning to build shelters at nine new sites to cope with the rising number of migrants who have been stranded in the country after the introduction of border restrictions by countries further north.

A government statement Monday said the new sites, providing a total of 17,500 places, are mostly near Athens and in central Greece.

Dimitris Vitsas, the deputy defense minister, said 16,000 of those places should be available by the end of the week and could be used to provide alternative accommodation for the roughly 14,000 people who are camped out in Idomeni by the Macedonian border.

He said the government also plans to move people out of Piraeus, the country’s busiest port where some 3,000 are currently staying, by the end of the week.

Greece’s armed forces have built most of the country’s refugee shelters at disused military bases.

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12:40 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she expects “difficult negotiations” at the European Union summit with Turkey on the migrant crisis.

Merkel said her aim is to reduce the number of migrants entering illegally “and not just for a few countries, but for all countries — that means for Greece too.” Refugees and other migrants have been piling up in Greece since nations on the Balkan route, used by hundreds of thousands of people, imposed border restrictions.

Merkel said Monday that there needs to be a “sustainable solution” that involves protecting the EU’s external borders, and “that can only be done in cooperation with Turkey.”

She said she hopes to “move a step forward” but that will require tough negotiations.

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11:30 a.m.

Turkey’s prime minister says he hopes that a summit with European Union leaders on Monday will mark a turning point in relations as the EU seeks to stop migrants heading to Greece.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Brussels that the meeting is as focused on Turkey’s future EU membership as on the refugee emergency.

He said “Turkey is ready to work with the EU, and Turkey is ready to be a member of the EU as well.”

Davutoglu expressed hope the summit “will be a success story and a turning point in our relations.”

The EU is desperate to halt the flow of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. It has offered Turkey billions of euros (dollars) in refugee aid, fast-track EU membership and an easing of visa rules to win its support.

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11:15 a.m.

Hundreds of Calais residents are heading to Paris to protest against the negative impact of the migrant crisis on the local economy.

Ten buses carrying about 500 people, most of them working in local businesses, left the northern French port city on Monday morning to meet with Finance Minister Michel Sapin and representatives of French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee palace later in the afternoon.

The protesters claim that the large number of migrants in the makeshift camp known as the Jungle has badly damaged local businesses’ activity. David Sagnard, a member of the delegation traveling to the French capital, said the protesters want to be granted lower tax rates for their businesses “to boost economic activity and employment.”

Most of the migrants living in the area are trying to sneak across the English Channel to Britain.

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10:50 a.m.

Britain’s defense secretary says Prime Minister David Cameron will urge European leaders to make good on funds to help Turkey deal with the refugee crisis.

Michael Fallon told the BBC on Monday that Cameron will urge other EU leaders to deliver on millions of euros (dollars) in pledges. Fallon says Europe has promised the money and the coast guard there “needs to be strengthened and we need to do as much as we can to help Turkey.”

Britain has pledged to back a NATO operation meant to provide information about smugglers to halt their actions. Fallon says the amphibious landing ship RFA Mounts Bay will use an onboard helicopter to provide data on smuggling routes. The information will be passed to Turkish authorities to intercept migrants attempting the crossing.

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10:25 a.m.

Police are patrolling a square in central Athens to prevent migrants from setting up camp there after the site was cleared at the weekend.

Hundreds of people, mostly from Afghanistan, had been sleeping rough at Victoria Square in the center of Athens since border restrictions and closures were imposed by Austria and several Balkan countries last month.

Early Monday police were instructing those reaching the square to seek refuge at one of several shelters set up around the capital, while municipal workers were cleaning the area, using pressure hoses.

Refugees and other migrants have continued to travel to Greece from nearby Turkey despite the border closures, with 2,480 arriving Sunday, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

Some 34,000 migrants are currently stranded in Greece — with about a third of that number camped out in increasingly difficult conditions at the Greek-Macedonian border.

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10:15 a.m.

Greece’s prime minister is urging his European Union partners to finally put long-agreed migrant plans into action, as thousands of people wait on the country’s border with Macedonia.

Arriving for talks with EU leaders in Brussels Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Monday that “rules are for all, and everybody has to implement our common decisions.”

He told reporters that “if there are agreements that are not implemented there were not agreements at all.”

EU leaders agreed in September to share 160,000 refugees arriving in Greece and Italy over two years. As of March 3, fewer than 700 people had been relocated to other European countries.

Tsipras said that Europe must “have a credible relocation process.”

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10:10 a.m.

Thousands of refugees stranded on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia are anxiously awaiting news from a European Union-Turkey summit that could determine their fate.

The leaders are expected to declare the main Balkan migrant route closed Monday, after Macedonia, backed by Austria, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary, limited border crossings to a trickle.

Although the flow into Macedonia has slowed, some people are still getting through. Greek authorities said 337 people crossed between 6 a.m. Sunday and 6 a.m. Monday.

One Kurdish Syrian family said they were determined to cross and be reunited with the rest of the family in Germany.

“Whatever it takes. We will go. We have nothing to go back to. Our homes are destroyed, we have nothing to go back to,” said Lasgeen Hassan, 59, from Al Qamishli.

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10:05 a.m.

France’s foreign minister says Europe must reach a deal with Turkey over how to handle the influx of migrants and must rethink its own system of open borders.

In an interview Monday with FranceInter radio, Jean-Marc Ayrault said the European Union’s system of open borders wasn’t set up to deal with a major migration crisis and must be reformed.

He said that will entail protecting the EU’s outer frontiers, dividing up newcomers who have the right to asylum, helping Greece and reaching an accord with Turkey. Those two countries on Europe’s outer edges are struggling to cope with hundreds of thousands of migrants hoping to reach a better life in the north.

EU leaders are holding talks later Monday with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

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9:40 a.m.

European Union leaders have started arriving in Brussels to press Turkey to do more to stop migrants entering Europe and to shore up support for Greece, where thousands of people are stranded.

The leaders are expected to declare the main Balkan migrant route closed Monday, after Macedonia, backed by Austria, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary, limited border crossings to a trickle.

Ahead of the summit in Brussels, some 14,000 people were camped in Greece at the Macedonian border hoping desperately to be allowed to cross.

The leaders are set first to hold talks at 1130 GMT with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

A draft statement prepared for their talks says they will ensure “comprehensive, large scale and fast-track returns to Turkey of all irregular migrants not in need of international protection.”

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