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EU Leaders, Turkey Near Agreement On Migration Route To Northern Europe

European Council President Donald Tusk (front center) shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (front row, second from left) during a group photo at an EU summit Monday in Brussels. Francois Walschaerts/AP hide caption

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Francois Walschaerts/AP

European Council President Donald Tusk (front center) shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (front row, second from left) during a group photo at an EU summit Monday in Brussels.

Francois Walschaerts/AP

European Union leaders and Turkey's prime minister have ended talks aimed at resolving the flood of migrants into Europe, signaling their leaders are closer to an agreement.

The Associated Press reports, "Luxembourg's prime minister says that European Union and Turkish leaders have ended talks ... but that more work is needed to finalize an agreement. Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said in a tweet early Tuesday that EU Council President Donald Tusk 'will take forward the proposals and work out the details with the Turkish side' before the next EU summit on March 17."

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson tells our Newscast unit that because much of the migrant traffic comes through Turkey, "Turkish support is vital if illegal migration to Europe is to be curbed."

"EU leaders are also expected to announce the Western Balkan route for illegal migrants officially closed, leaving Greece to largely deal with some 2,000 asylum seekers arriving there daily," Soraya says.

Closing the route, she adds, would be a "180-degree turn from last year and means the EU is no longer welcoming asylum seekers — qualified or not – from illegally entering the bloc."

The Western Balkan route is the main path migrants have been using as they head to northern Europe. Reporting from the Greek-Macedonian border, Joanna Kakissis says on Morning Edition:

"For months, refugees who landed in Greece were waved through to northern Europe by the Balkan countries of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, as well as Austria.

"But last month, Austria put new restrictions on who could enter, prompting border closures throughout the so-called Balkan route."

Migrants wait in front of a closed gate Monday at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, hoping to be allowed to cross into Macedonia. Visar Kryeziu/AP hide caption

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Visar Kryeziu/AP

Migrants wait in front of a closed gate Monday at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, hoping to be allowed to cross into Macedonia.

Visar Kryeziu/AP

Those closures are creating a bottleneck of thousands of migrants waiting at Greece's border with Macedonia. In total, some 30,000 asylum seekers are stranded in Greece, Joanna reports.

Soraya breaks down what Turkey and the EU want from each other at the Brussels summit:

"Turkey, according to unofficial reports, not only wants more than the 3 billion euros the 28-member bloc has pledged to give it to help pay for the millions of refugees it is caring for, but movement on its request to join the EU. That's something the bloc's most powerful member — Germany — is opposed to. Visa-free travel from Turkey to the EU is also said to be something Ankara is demanding.

"European leaders, in turn, want Ankara to do a better job of stopping illegal migrants from transiting through Turkey to get to Europe, and to take back rejected asylum seekers that came through Turkey, the first few hundred of which did return last week. Turkish officials have also agreed to institute visa requirements making it more difficult for migrants to enter, as well as appealing to Syrians to stay by giving more of them permission to work in Turkey."

Should the Western Balkan route close, Reuters reports, EU leaders would pledge to help Greece "cope with the backlog and seek assurances that Turkey, with NATO naval back-up in the Aegean, will stop people smugglers putting migrants to sea."

The mass influx of migrants is also putting pressure on a cornerstone of the EU, the BBC reports:

"The future of the Schengen agreement — which allows passport-free travel in a 26-nation zone — will also be on the agenda. Eight members have introduced temporary border controls, and EU leaders will be anxious to save a system thought to bring billions of euros to Europe's economy every year."

Meanwhile, thousands of migrants are in limbo on the Greece-Macedonian border, anxiously waiting for the regional leaders to decide their fate. One Syrian refugee, Hassan Sheikho, spoke to the AP and pressed the leaders to "solve the crisis in Syria and we'll go back, otherwise, make your decision and we'll be ready."