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Migration: Greek minister backs new funds for Turkey

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's migration minister on Friday urged the incoming European Commission to renew a funding commitment to Turkey to stop migrants reaching the European Union. Giorgos Koumoutsakos told The Associated Press in an interview that Athens would also welcome an enhanced NATO presence and tougher international patrolling off Greek islands where arrivals have spiked in recent weeks.

The EU has only paid out about half of the 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) promised to Turkey under a landmark 2016 agreement to halt westward migration, and officials in Ankara have recently threatened call off the deal without renewed disbursements.

"I think that the EU should positively consider the possibility of new funding to Turkey. Of course, this will not be unconditional but it should be seriously and positively considered," Koumoutsakos said.

The new EU Commission will assume office on Nov. 1 under president-elect Ursula von der Leyen, with immigration as one of its main priorities. More than half the migrants and refugees currently reaching the EU illegally travel from Turkey to the Greek islands or sneak over the heavily militarized Greek-Turkish land border.

Refugee camps on five Greek islands are severely crowded. Earlier Friday, seven migrants were killed in the eastern Aegean when their boat sank near the tiny Greek island of Inousses. The victims included five children. Twelve others were rescued.

Koumoutsakos described the incident as a "tragedy." He said Greece favored tougher patrolling around Greek islands by the EU border protection agency Frontex — raising the possibility of international operations inside Turkish waters.

He said: "It depends very much on how the Turkish side would react to this, but the more the better: I mean if you have a robust presence with an assertive mandate, this would definitely produce better results than the ones we have right now."

Full AP coverage of the migrant crisis at https://www.apnews.com/migrants

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