At Vienna EU summit, Merkel calls for rejected asylum-seekers to return to home countries

European leaders met in the Austrian capital to find a common solution to the wave of migration to the continent. Germany's chancellor has proposed accords to return rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin.

Embattled both at home and in the wider European Union (EU) for her migration policy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested on Saturday that Europe contend with the crisis by making deals with third countries to send back migrants who are denied asylum.

Merkel spoke to reporters in Vienna, where she was attending a summit for leaders along the Balkan route for refugees traveling from eastern to western Europe. The German leader said it was incumbent upon EU leaders to "stop illegal immigration while living up to our humanitarian responsibilities."

In order to achieve this, Merkel said, "it is necessary to get agreements with third countries, especially in Africa but also Pakistan and Afghanistan... so that it becomes clear that those with no right to stay in Europe can go back to their home countries."

Meeting in Vienna to address the changing nature of the crisis were leaders from Germany, the EU, Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia.

The EU's deal with Turkey on the management of migrants coming from North Africa and the Middle East, was one of the three main goals agreed on at Saturday's talks, according to Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern.

Others included providing extra staff for EU border force Frontex.

Following Merkel's comments, Kern added. "The redistribution issue was discussed, but I am convinced that we will make progress on that when the first two things are solved, namely building up border protection (and) building appropriate support structures in countries of origin," Kern said.

Leaving home - for good?

Zakaria received his camera on December 8 in Izmir, Turkey - one of the key hubs for refugees. The Syrian fled from the "Islamic State" terror militia and the government, according to McElvaney's #RefugeeCamera project. Out of safety concerns, Zakaria doesn't name his hometown. In his flight diary, Zakaria writes that only God knows if he will ever be able to return to Syria.

Rough dinghy ride

Zakaria documented his sea journey from Turkey to Chios. He was sitting in the back of his dinghy. At the Hamburg exhibition, which opens this weekend, the refugees' images will be complemented by a selection of shots taken by professionals, who helped to shape the representation of escape routes in the media. They all donated their works in order to support the project.

Perilous arrival

Hamza and Abdulmonem, both from Syria, photographed the perilous landing of their dinghy on a Greek island. There were no volunteers to offer them support. That is exactly what McElvaney had in mind when he launched #RefugeeCameras. So far, he says, the media have offered a "visual blank" in this respect.

Surviving the sea

After the landing, a young boy in wet clothes and life jacket stands on the pebbled beach. The image brings to mind Aylan Kurdi, the small Syrian boy whose lifeless body was washed ashore on a Turkish beach in September. The child in this picture made it to Europe alive. What became of him is not known.

Seven cameras returned

Hamza and Abdulmonem also took this slightly blurred snapshot of the refugee group taking a break. McElvaney handed out 15 disposable cameras in total. Seven of them were returned, one was lost, two were confiscated, two remain in Izmir, where their holders are still stranded. The remaining three cameras are unaccounted for - just like their owners.

Family in focus

Dyab, a math teacher from Syria, tried to capture some of the better moments of his journey to Germany. Pictured here are his wife and his young son, Kerim, who shows us the packet of biscuits he was given in a Macedonian refugee camp. The images reveal Dyab's deep affection for his son, McElvaney says: "He wants to take care of him, even on this arduous trip which he was forced to take."

From Iran to Hanau

The story of Saeed, from Iran, is a different one. The young man had to leave the country after converting to Christianity. He could have been arrested or even killed. In order to be accepted as a refugee, he pretended to be Afghan. After his arrival in Germany, he explained his situation to the authorities' satisfaction. He now lives - as an Iranian - in Hanau, Hesse.

Beyond selfies

Saeed took this picture of a Syrian father and his child on a bus from Athens to Idomeni.

More than status

In another snapshot taken by Saeed, a volunteer working in a refugee camp somewhere between Croatia and Slovenia entertains a group of children, who try to imitate his tricks.

Tusk demands Balkan trail close 'for good'

Ahead of Merkel's statements, European Council President Donald Tusk demanded reassurances that the route used by a million migrants in 2015 to reach wealthier EU nations through the western Balkans was closed "for good."

"Since the first days of the migration crisis, I have had no doubt that the main key to its resolution is restoring effective control of the EU's external borders," Tusk said in a statement upon arriving at a high-profile summit in Vienna.

"Obviously, an essential precondition for achieving this goal is close cooperation with our partners in the Balkans and Turkey," he said. "(But) we need to confirm - politically and in practice - that the Western Balkan route of irregular migration is closed for good."

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said there was a need to make preparations in the event of problems: "We must have a second plan for the eventuality that the EU-Turkey deal, for whatever reason, collapses," he told a news conference. "When the migrants descend on us and trouble arrives it will be too late to reach for blueprints, for fences, for physical barriers, for new police and soldiers."


Migration routes shift

While Germany is still set to process over a million asylum applications in 2016, the number of migrants traveling through the so-called Balkan route has dwindled to a trickle after Austria pressured countries to close their borders to asylum seekers.

But the route's closure has shifted migration from the Aegean Sea to the central Mediterranean, with Italy receiving more than 110,000 migrants in 2016, many arriving via Libya. Nearly 3,000 people have died attempting the dangerous voyage.

es,ls/jm (dpa, AFP)