The Latest: Merkel praises Turkey for refugee reception

The Latest on migrants and asylum-seekers in Europe (all times local):

4:40 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has renewed her praise for Turkey's efforts to take care of refugees and said it's only right for Europe to continue supporting it despite tensions with Ankara.

Speaking at a European Peoples Party congress in Malta, Merkel rhetorically asked if only Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon should bear the brunt of the refugee exodus when Syria sits just beyond Europe's eastern outpost at Cyprus.

She said: "Apart from all the criticism we currently have for Turkey, they did a lot for the 3 million refugees and it's right that Europe would assist Turkey in this matter."

She said Germany decided to take in refugees because Europe had "neglected a lot beforehand." ''The truth is: we looked the other way when the issue was to finance refugee camps."


4:30 p.m.

Greek police say they have freed 23 migrants held captive by smugglers until their relatives paid a fee for smuggling the men into Greece from neighboring Turkey.

Police said Thursday that the 21 Pakistani and two Bangladeshi men were in good health despite being imprisoned for a week in a Roma camp near the northern city of Thessaloniki.

One of their alleged captors, a 26-year-old Greek, was arrested.

Police said the migrants had all paid deposits on agreed fees of between 1,500-3,500 euros ($1,610 to $3,750) each to be smuggled into Greece across the Evros river, which runs along the country's land border with Turkey.

They were being held until the outstanding sums were paid. The raid followed a complaint by two of the men's relatives.


11:40 a.m.

Denmark's integration minister is urging people to turn in pizza bakers if they suspect they are employing illegal immigrants.

Inger Stoejberg says she "actually would encourage" Danes to contact authorities if they think something strange is going on, such as many employees "not speaking Danish at all."

She told TV2 late Wednesday that it is impossible for police to check all the backrooms of pizza restaurants.

Her comments came after the channel recently reported an increase in the number of people suspected of living illegally in Denmark — jumping from 877 in 2015 to 1,348 last year.

Stoejberg, considered an immigration hardliner, created a stir earlier for posting an online photo of her smiling and holding a cake to mark the 50th measure tightening immigration laws.