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EU's Juncker sees refugee crisis at 'turning point'

BERLIN (Reuters) - Europe’s migrant crisis is at a “turning point” thanks to a deal with Turkey to stem the number of new arrivals which is showing its first successes, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in comments published on Saturday.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker looks on during a meeting at the Capitol Hill in Rome, Italy, May 5, 2016. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Under an accord struck with the European Union, Turkey has agreed to help stop illegal migrants reaching the continent in return for accelerated EU accession talks, visa liberalization, and financial aid.

Juncker told the Funke Media Group that the deal, which came into force last month, was already enabling Europe to better manage the flow of migrants.

“We at a turning point,” he said.

“The deal with Turkey is having an effect and the number of migrants is sinking significantly.”

He added there still needed to be a sustainable drop in the numbers before the “all-clear” could be sounded, but said the deal had given the 28-member bloc room for maneuver to create a fair and efficient asylum system in the medium term.

Europe is grappling with its largest migration wave since World War Two, as a traditional flow of migrants from Africa is compounded by refugees fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and South Asia.

The deal sealed off the main route by which a million migrants crossed the Aegean into Greece last year, but some believe new routes will develop through Bulgaria or Albania as Mediterranean crossings to Italy from Libya resume.

Juncker criticized the decision to build a fence between Greece and Macedonia.

“I don’t share the view of some that this fence - or building fences in Europe in general - can contribute anything to the long-term solution of the refugee crisis,” he said.

“Fences may prevent refugees form moving on, but no fence and no wall is high enough to deter these people from coming to Europe when they are fleeing war and violence in their home countries.”

Reporting by Caroline Copley