European Commission president says refugee crisis is at ‘turning point' as deal with Turkey starts showing effects
Europe's refugee crisis is at a "turning point" thanks to a deal with Turkey to stem the number of new arrivals which is showing its first successes, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in comments published on Saturday.
Turkey and EU leaders approved a deal in March intended on halting the flow of refugees into Europe, promising visa liberation for Turkish citizens, progress in the country's EU membership negotiations, and supplemeting the billions of dollars that Turkey has already spent hosting the refugees.
Juncker told the Funke Media Group that the deal, which came into force on April, was already enabling Europe to better manage the flow of refugees and migrants.
"We at a turning point," Juncker said "The deal with Turkey is having an effect and the number of migrants is sinking significantly."
He added there still needed to be a sustainable drop in the numbers before the "all-clear" could be sounded, but said the deal had given the 28-member bloc room for manoeuvre to create a fair and efficient asylum system in the medium term.
Europe is grappling with its largest refugee influx since World War Two, as a traditional flow of asylum seekers from Africa is compounded by refugees fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and South Asia.
The deal sealed off the main route by which a million refugees and migrants crossed the Aegean into Greece last year, but some believe new routes will develop through Bulgaria or Albania as Mediterranean crossings to Italy from Libya resume.
Juncker also criticised the decision to build a fence between Greece and Macedonia.
"I don't share the view of some that this fence - or building fences in Europe in general - can contribute anything to the long-term solution of the refugee crisis," he said.
"Fences may prevent refugees form moving on, but no fence and no wall is high enough to deter these people from coming to Europe when they are fleeing war and violence in their home countries."