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Turkey Hails 'Effective' Migrant Deal As EU Leaders Visit

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (center) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are greeted by refugees in Nizip refugee camp on April 23.

Turkey's prime minister has said the number of migrants crossing into Greece illegally has dropped considerably as he defended a much criticized migration deal between Turkey and the European Union.

Ahmet Davutolgu was speaking on April 23 at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top European Union officials who traveled near Turkey's border with Syria in a bid to promote the troubled deal with Turkey. The group toured a refugee camp and inaugurated a child-support center funded by the EU.

European Union Council President Donald Tusk said the EU plans to spend 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) on projects this summer to improve the lives of Syrian refugees in Turkey and Davutoglu said the bloc has already launched projects worth 187 million euros ($211 million).

Human rights groups criticized the trip to what they call a "sanitized" refugee camp -- and said EU officials should look further at the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees that are now blocked from entering Turkey.

Many have questioned the legality of the March 20 EU-Turkey deal allowing for the deportation of migrants who don't qualify for asylum in Greece back to Turkey.

Davutoglu said the number of migrants crossing illegally into Greece had dropped from around 6,000 per day in November to around 130 daily since the beginning of this month.

"This drop shows the effectiveness of this joint mechanism," Davutoglu said.

"Our priority was to stop the baby Aylans from washing up on the shores, and we have made great strides in this aim," Davutoglu said, in reference to drowned 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose images helped galvanize world attention on the plight of the migrants.

In return for the deal, the EU has earmarked 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) to Turkey over the next four years to help improve conditions for the 2.7 million Syrian refugees inside Turkey. The EU is also set to allow visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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