ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The Latest on the flow of people into Europe (all times local):
Serbian police say they have arrested five people on suspicion of smuggling 25 migrants over the border from neighboring Bulgaria.
Police said Friday that the suspects will be charged with illegal crossing of the state border and people-smuggling. Police say they found the migrants hidden in the suspects’ vehicles after stopping them on a regional road in central Serbia.
Police also have confiscated the five vehicles.
Migrants fleeing war and poverty and hoping to reach Western Europe have been turning to smugglers after countries along the so-called Balkan migrant corridor closed their borders for transit toward wealthy EU nations.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is defending anew the European Union’s migrant deal with Turkey, saying that it’s right to combat illegal migration and people-smuggling.
Merkel spoke at an event in Berlin Friday as Greece resumed deportations to Turkey under the deal that she has championed. The arrangement has drawn criticism from human rights groups and others.
Merkel said she is “firmly convinced that making clear we are pitting ourselves against illegal migration is right.” She pointed to continuing deaths of people crossing the Aegean Sea and said that Europe can’t stand by and watch people-smugglers taking control.
She said that “each migrant will receive an individual examination” and that “we are in a critical dialogue” with nongovernmental organizations.
A second wave of migrants returned from Greece has reached Turkey in line with a controversial deal to curb illegal migration to Europe.
A group of 45 migrants set out in a ferry from the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday morning and arrived shortly after in the Turkish port town of Dikili across the Aegean Sea.
Turkey has agreed to take back migrants who reached Greece after March 20. For every Syrian returned, Europe agreed to take a Syrian refugee from Turkey to be resettled in an EU country.
Turkey, home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees, will receive funds from the EU to spend on refugees. It is also set to benefit with visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and accelerated EU membership talks.
The number of people applying for asylum in Germany during the first quarter of the year has more than doubled compared with the same period in 2015.
Official figures released Friday show 181,405 people applied for asylum in Germany during the first three months. That’s an increase of 112.4 percent compared with the 85,394 asylum requests in the first quarter of last year.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the rise in asylum requests occurred despite a decrease in new arrivals in recent months. He said the discrepancy was due to a delay between people arriving and formally requesting asylum.
The number of Syrians applying for asylum in Germany during the first quarter was 89,292, compared with 15,444 in the same period 2015.
Amid protests, Greece has resumed deportations of refugees and migrants from its islands to Turkey after a four-day pause, sending back 45 people from Lesbos to a nearby port on the Turkish coast.
Before the boat left the island Friday, four activists jumped into the sea to try to obstruct the operation and were detained by the coast guard.
Another 79 people were due to be deported from Lesbos later Friday, authorities said.
An agreement between Turkey and the European Union went into full effect Monday, when 202 migrants were sent back.
Some 4,000 migrants and refugees who reached Greek islands from nearby Turkey after March 20 are being held in detention camps to be screened for deportation.