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Turkey must cut migrant flows to Europe, top EU official says
Today's Zaman

Europe needs Turkey to dramatically cut the number of migrants reaching Greece within weeks or the pressure for more border closures and fences will grow, the EU's top official in charge of ties with Ankara warned on Saturday.

Frustrated that refugees continue to stream into Greece despite a Nov. 29 deal between Ankara and Brussels to slow down the flows, European Commissioner Johannes Hahn said Turkey must show results by the time EU leaders meet for a Feb. 18-19 summit.

"This action plan was agreed more than two months ago and we are still not seeing a significant decline in the number of migrants," Hahn, the EU's enlargement commissioner, told Reuters after an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Amsterdam attended by Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu.

"Turkey could do more, I have no doubt," Hahn said, adding that Ankara's need to shift forces to curb violence in southeastern Turkey was "no excuse" for not patrolling its western coast and cooperating with Greece.

The European Commission, the EU executive, is set to publish on Wednesday a report on Turkey's progress in implementing the migrant deal. While Turkish police targeting people smugglers have made arrests and Turkey has introduced a limited work-permit scheme for Syrian refugees, the Commission report is likely to be critical.

"We need results before the EU summit to show leaders that this is working," Hahn said. "I am concerned there's not enough time."

More than 1 million people arrived in Europe last year, fleeing war and failing states in the Middle East and North Africa. Numbers show little sign of falling, despite the winter.

Asked to detail the cost of a failed deal with Turkey, Hahn said: "It increases the pressure to find other solutions," referring to border fences that go against EU rules on the freedom of its citizens to move across frontiers to live and work.

Hahn's warning of the consequences of inaction was highlighted by a call from Hungary and Austria at the Amsterdam meeting for fences on the Macedonian and Bulgarian borders with Greece and between Austria and Slovenia to stop migrants.

Hahn said if such fences were built it would only create a "domino effect" with many EU nations closing their frontiers and putting at risk the bloc's passport-free Schengen zone.

Six Schengen members, including Germany and four other EU countries, have resorted to reinstating temporary border checks in the passport-free area. They can stay in place until May.

The EU has agreed to give Turkey 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) to keep Syrian refugees on its soil in return for an acceleration of the EU accession talks and speeded-up visa liberalization for Turks visiting Europe.

The deal is contentious because while EU countries now recognize they need strategically important Turkey, they are concerned about what they see as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's growing authoritarianism.

EUROPE’S CLOSED: 70,000 Syrians head for Turkish border as authorities shut off country
by Zoie O'Brien

UP to 70,000 Syrians are flocking to the border with Turkey to flee the civil war which has seen Aleppo bombed to obliteration.

Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria for two days after intense bombing has spread into the countryside and whittled away the rebel-held city.

Already 20,000 Syrians are at the Bab al-Salam border crossing and another 50,000 are on their way, an official with the Turkish disaster agency AFAD.

It follows 10,000 people rushing to each northern city Azaz and Afrin, just north of Aleppo and closer to the Turkish border.

Aid agencies in southern Turkey are frantically trying to help the people massing at the Bab al-Salam border crossing following the most sustained assault on the area in the five years since the civil war began.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said they would continue to feed and shelter the refugees in the towns of Azaz and Afrin in north-western Syria, but did not say when or if they would be allowed in.

Turkey is the starting point for thousands of migrants wanting to reach Western Europe, with groups crossing to Greece on boat, before travelling through borders in eastern Europe.

But Sherif Elsayed-Ali, deputy director of global issues at Amnesty International, said: “Turkey must not close its doors to people in desperate need of safety.

“These people have fled airstrikes and heavy fighting; they are likely to be traumatised and exhausted. Turkey must allow them to enter its territory and the international community must do all it can to ensure adequate support is given to the country.”

The latest fleeing of Syrians was sparked when Syrian President Assad, backed by Russian air strikes - broke a three-year siege on government controlled villages in the region, Nubul and Zahraa. It disrupted a vital opposition supply line from Turkey to the city of Aleppo.

Rebel groups in the area, among them the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, conceded that only several kilometres stood between pro-Assad forces on either side and that the gap was likely to be closed over the weekend.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Russia must be held accountable for the civilians it had killed in Syria - saying between them Moscow and Damascus were responsible for the deaths of 400,000 people.

But Russia said it was only targeting groups it considers to be “terrorists”, and accused Turkey of preparing an invasion in northern Syria.

Turkey has taken in more than 2.5million refugees from the conflict - more than any other country.

Over 1,000 Poles Rally in Warsaw Against EU Refugee Plan
Sputnik News

Around 1,500 Polish protesters gathered in Warsaw on Saturday to rally against the European Union’s plan to receive refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, local media reported.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The protesters were chanting "We will defend our homeland. We won’t let immigrants in," the state-owned Polish Radio said.

The rally, organized by the right-wing National Movement, was countered by another neighboring demonstration of several dozen people from left-wing and anarchist groups, who were protesting against racial and religious hatred.

The Warsaw rally against mass migration is part of a wave of civil actions in Europe held on Saturday in over a dozen EU cities, including Dresden, Prague, Bordeaux, Amsterdam and Birmingham.

As part of the EU refugee resettlement plan, last year, Poland’s previous government agreed to Brussels’ proposal to take in 7,000 refugees fleeing war and poverty in their home countries over two years.

In mid-January, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo stated that no more than 400 refugees would be relocated to the country in 2016.
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