EU envoy to sound out Ankara on migrant deal

EU envoy to sound out Ankara on migrant deal

Following a barrage of statements by Turkish government officials effectively threatening to break a pact struck between the European Union and Ankara to curb migrant smuggling across the Aegean, European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos is planning a visit to Ankara in the first 10 days of September to gauge sentiment and determine whether the crucial deal remains on track, Kathimerini understands.

Officials in Athens have become nervous following a recent uptick in migrant arrivals from neighboring Turkey in recent weeks, fearing that Turkish authorities could exploit the agreement to wrest concessions from the EU, notably visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

However, sources indicate that officials in Brussels and Berlin are not worried about the slight increase in arrivals as the influx remains significantly below the levels seen this time last year when the refugee crisis had started to mount.

Before Avramopoulos travels to Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is due in Athens on August 29 for talks that are expected to clarify Turkey’s willingness to cooperate with Greece in curbing migrant flows across the Aegean and to focus on other contentious bilateral issues such as the requested extradition of eight Turkish military officers.

As a European scheme for the relocation of refugees from Greece and Italy to other EU countries makes slow progress, concerns are growing about the thousands of migrants who remain trapped in overcrowded reception centers in Greece.

On Wednesday the number of migrants living in state facilities on the islands of the eastern Aegean rose to 10,042 following the arrival of another 90 people from neighboring Turkey – 34 on Lesvos, 35 on Chios, 17 on Kalymnos and four on Samos.

The combined maximum capacity of the reception centers on the islands is 7,450.

Earlier this week, Alternate Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas said authorities were planning to transfer migrants who have completed the first stage of their asylum application to state facilities on the mainland to lighten the pressure on island venues.

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