EU Leaders, Turkey Discuss Closing Main Migration Route To Northern Europe

March 7, 2016

European Union leaders are meeting with Turkey’s prime minister today in Brussels as they try to slow the flood of migrants into Europe.

NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson tells our Newscast unit that because much of the migrant traffic comes through Turkey, “Turkish support is vital if illegal migration to Europe is to be curbed.”

“EU leaders are also expected to announce the Western Balkan route for illegal migrants officially closed, leaving Greece to largely deal with some 2,000 asylum seekers arriving there daily,” Soraya says.

Closing the route, she adds, would be a “180-degree turn from last year and means the EU is no longer welcoming asylum seekers — qualified or not – from illegally entering the bloc.”

The Western Balkan route is the main path migrants have been using as they head to northern Europe. Reporting from the Greek-Macedonian border, Joanna Kakissis says on Morning Edition:

“For months, refugees who landed in Greece were waved through to northern Europe by the Balkan countries of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, as well as Austria.

“But last month, Austria put new restrictions on who could enter, prompting border closures throughout the so-called Balkan route.”

Those closures are creating a bottleneck of thousands of migrants waiting at Greece’s border with Macedonia. In total, some 30,000 asylum seekers are stranded in Greece, Joanna reports.

Soraya breaks down what Turkey and the EU want from each other at the Brussels summit:

“Turkey, according to unofficial reports, not only wants more than the 3 billion euros the 28-member bloc has pledged to give it to help pay for the millions of refugees it is caring for, but movement on its request to join the EU. That’s something the bloc’s most powerful member — Germany — is opposed to. Visa-free travel from Turkey to the EU is also said to be something Ankara is demanding.

“European leaders, in turn, want Ankara to do a better job of stopping illegal migrants from transiting through Turkey to get to Europe, and to take back rejected asylum seekers that came through Turkey, the first few hundred of which did return last week. Turkish officials have also agreed to institute visa requirements making it more difficult for migrants to enter, as well as appealing to Syrians to stay by giving more of them permission to work in Turkey.”

Should the Western Balkan route close, Reuters reports, EU leaders would pledge to help Greece “cope with the backlog and seek assurances that Turkey, with NATO naval back-up in the Aegean, will stop people smugglers putting migrants to sea.”

The mass influx of migrants is also putting pressure on a cornerstone of the EU, the BBC reports:

“The future of the Schengen agreement — which allows passport-free travel in a 26-nation zone — will also be on the agenda. Eight members have introduced temporary border controls, and EU leaders will be anxious to save a system thought to bring billions of euros to Europe’s economy every year.”

Meanwhile, thousands of migrants are in limbo on the Greece-Macedonian border, anxiously waiting for the regional leaders to decide their fate. One Syrian refugee, Hassan Sheikho, spoke to the AP and pressed the leaders to “solve the crisis in Syria and we’ll go back, otherwise, make your decision and we’ll be ready.”

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