ANKARA/stockholm - Almost 40 people drowned and 75 were rescued after a boat carrying migrants to Greece sank off Turkey’s western coast on Saturday, according to local officials and the Turkish Dogan news agency.

More than one million refugees and migrants arrived in the European Union last year and some 3,600 died or went missing, forcing the EU to mull suspending its Schengen open-borders area for up to two years.

The Turkish coast guard was continuing search and rescue efforts where the 17-metre boat carrying at least 120 people sank off the coast of Ayvacik, a town across from the Greek island of Lesvos, the Dogan news agency reported. “I am afraid the numbers will rise as divers continue the search,” Mehmet Unal Sahin, the mayor of Ayvacik, told the CNNTurk news channel by phone.

“Local people woke up to the sound of screaming migrants and we have been carrying out rescue work since dawn. We have an 80-kilometre-long coast just across from Lesvos, which is very hard to keep under control.”

At least five of those who died were children, Dogan reported, while rescued migrants were hospitalised with hypothermia symptoms. It said the migrants were of Syrian, Afghan and Myanmar origin.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who opened Germany’s borders to Syrians fleeing civil war last summer, is under mounting pressure to halt the inflow.

Merkel told a meeting of a members of her Christian Democratic Union party on Saturday that despite efforts to help refugees, it was important to stress that they had only been given permission for a limited stay.

“We need ...to say to people that this is a temporary residential status and we expect that once there is peace in Syria again, once IS has been defeated in Iraq, that you go back to your home country.”

Around 500,000 refugees from the five-year-old war in Syria travelled through Turkey and then risked their lives at sea to reach Greek islands in 2015.

Under pressure from the European Commission about delays, Greece expects to have four of five “hot spot” centres for processing migrants operational in about two weeks, its migration minister said in a newspaper interview published on Saturday. “We are behind schedule on the installation of these hot spots,” Greece’s Yiannis Mouzalas told Austrian newspaper Der Standard. “Four of the five will be operational from mid-February.”

But growing concern about the country’s ability to cope and worries about crime and security after assaults on women are weighing on support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Merkel said that despite efforts to integrate refugees and help them, it was important to stress that they had only been given permission to stay for a limited period of time.

“We need ... to say to people that this is a temporary residential status and we expect that once there is peace in Syria again, once IS has been defeated in Iraq, that you go back to your home country with the knowledge that you have gained,” she said at a meeting of CDU members in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Dozens of masked men believed to belong to neo-Nazi gangs carried out a number of assaults on migrants in Stockholm overnight amid rising tension over immigration, Swedish police said Saturday.

Police had beefed up their presence in the city centre, deploying anti-riot and helicopter units after learning that extremists were planning ‘aggression on unaccompanied migrant minors’ in the city late on Friday. ‘I was passing by and saw a masked group dressed in black... start hitting foreigners. I saw three people molested,’ the Aftonbladet daily quoted one witness as saying.

Police spokesman Towe Hagg said by midday police had not received any complaints of assault but one 46-year-old man was arrested after striking a plain clothed officer. Three further people were briefly detained for public order offences and one more faces charges for carrying a knife.

As many as 100 people, their faces covered, had descended in the early evening on the Sergels Torg pedestrian square, a popular meeting point for young people, including unaccompanied migrants. Aftonbladet quoted witnesses as saying the masked group targeted ‘people of foreign appearance’ and handed out leaflets urging the infliction of ‘deserved punishment on children of the North African street.’ Internet site Nordfront, an online forum for the neo-Nazi SMR movement, said its ‘sources’ had revealed that around ‘100 hooligans’ from the AIK and Djurgarden football clubs had gathered Friday in order to ‘sort out the criminals coming in from North Africa.’

After initially taking a generous stance on migration - the country of 9.8 million is among the European Union states with the highest proportion of refugees per capita - Sweden has in recent days said it expects to expel tens of thousands of people over several years as it struggles to cope with the influx. The number of new migrants entering the country has plunged since Stockholm introduced systematic photo ID checks on travellers on January 4.

The toughening of policy comes against a backdrop of rising concern over conditions in the country’s overcrowded asylum facilities, and officials called for greater security after an employee at a refugee centre for unaccompanied youths was fatally stabbed.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Saturday accused those who would “destroy” the passport-free Schengen zone of wanting to destroy Europe, and vowed that Italy would not let it happen.

“We say with force, decisiveness and courage that those who want to destroy Schengen want to destroy Europe. And we will not allow them to,” Renzi said a day after meeting with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on a migrant crisis which has threatened to see freedom of movement in the European Union revoked.

Renzi was speaking during a visit to the Italian island of Ventotene, where during the Second World War two prisoners wrote a manifesto considered by many to be a key driver behind the movement for European unification.