Jens Stoltenberg praises collective efforts based on deal between Turkey and EU to halt refugee influx into Europe, warning authorities that human traffickers could change their routes

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Collective efforts by Turkey and the EU are making a difference in the refugee crisis and the number of refugees and illegal migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey into Europe is falling significantly, said NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday.

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg's comments came during a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, where Stoltenberg is on an official visit.

In late March Turkey and the EU reached a deal aimed at decreasing the illegal influx of refugees into Europe.

The deal is mainly aimed at preventing people smugglers from sending refugees across the Aegean Sea into Greece.

As part of the deal Turkey will accept back refugees who crossed into Greece after March 20, while in return the EU will provide Turkey with financial aid, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.

Stoltenberg praised the consequences of the deal, but he also warned authorities that human traffickers could change their routes.

"It confirms that our collective efforts are making a difference," he said.

"We need to remain flexible because the people smugglers can shift their routes very rapidly."

Moreover, Stoltenberg said the main hope for ending the refugee crisis lies with a peaceful resolution to the conflict Syrian, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands people and forced millions of others to flee the country.

Stating a ceasefire is the best option for Syria, Stoltenberg criticised Russia for providing military support to the Bashar al Assad regime.

"Despite the announced partial withdrawal, we see that Russia maintains a considerable military presence in support of the Assad regime in Syria," Stoltenberg said.

"The Syrian ceasefire is under strain. But it remains the best basis for a negotiated peaceful solution to the crisis."

Russia began its aerial campaign in Syria in September 2015, stating it was directed against the DAESH terrorist group. However, the US and NATO have said Moscow has conducted more air strikes on opposition forces fighting against Assad than DAESH.

On March 15, Russia began to pull the bulk of its military forces - including SU-34 fighter jets - out of Syria. The unexpected decision raised hopes for the ongoing Syrian peace talks but Russia has not fully pulled back its forces in the country, as Russian forces and aircraft still remain stationed in northwest Latakia.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies