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article imageFive NATO ships in Aegean migrant mission

By AFP     Mar 10, 2016 in World

NATO now has five ships taking part in an unprecedented naval mission in the Aegean Sea to tackle people smugglers taking migrants from Turkey to Greece, the alliance's chief Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Stoltenberg said NATO was pushing ahead with the deployment since it was approved last month.

"There are now five ships in the area, there will be more ships in the coming days, and we also have helicopters on most of the ships, so we are increasing the presence of NATO vessels with modern equipment," Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg said that at the weekend NATO expanded into Turkish and Greek territorial waters, a move that was delayed because of disagreements with Ankara.

The vessels were concentrating on the area around the island of Lesbos and aimed to "cut the lines of the illegal networks and illegal trafficking of people across the Aegean Sea."

Britain announced on Monday, ahead of an EU summit with Turkey on the migration crisis, that it was sending an amphibious landing ship and several other vessels to join ships from Canada, Germany, Greece and Turkey.

NATO launched the deployment, the first civilian operation of its kind for the military alliance, after a request by Greece, Turkey and Germany to help tackle Europe's biggest migration crisis since World War II.

More than one million people have crossed the Mediterranean since the start of 2015 including many refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

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