The Latest: Sweden seeks to relocate migrants

AP News
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Posted: Nov 04, 2015 2:14 PM
The Latest: Sweden seeks to relocate migrants

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The latest as tens of thousands of people flood into Europe in search of a new life. All times local.

9:15 p.m.

Sweden says it will request to transfer some migrants to other European countries under an EU relocation plan.

In a joint news conference Wednesday with EU president Donald Tusk, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the country's migration authorities are overstretched by the large influx.

With about 160,000 asylum-seekers expected this year, he noted that "Sweden has taken by far the highest number of asylum-seekers per capita" in the 28-member bloc.

"Sweden is not able to receive people in the way that we want to," he added. "That is why tomorrow (Thursday) my government will decide to request the relocation of migrants from Sweden to other EU member states."

EU plans already call for the relocation of 160,000 refugees from Italy, Greece and Hungary — the main entry points into the EU — but only a few have been transferred to other countries so far.

Lofven didn't say how many migrants Sweden wants to relocate.

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7:35 p.m.

Slovenian lawmakers have blocked a bid for a referendum on granting the army more powers in managing the influx of migrants coming into the country from Croatia.

Parliament voted 71-6 Wednesday to block the initiative by Radio Student which had started collecting the 40,000 signatures needed to call the popular vote.

Lawmakers have cited a constitutional provision which prohibits votes on any urgent measures for the country's defense and security.

Slovenia has stepped up the army's role saying its police have been overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of refugees streaming into the country on their way toward Western Europe.

Supporters of the referendum have said the move was unnecessary and has led to a militarization of society. More than 140,000 refugees so far have entered the country.

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7:25 p.m.

An official says calm has returned at a camp on a British army base in Cyprus where 114 migrants are currently housed following some "isolated incidents of disorder" that included the torching of a couple of tents.

Sean Tully, a spokesman for Britain's two military bases Cyprus told the AP that authorities "understand that the migrants are frustrated" after their two boats landed on the shores of RAF Akrotiri last month instead of reaching their intended destination Greece.

Tully says that none of the 114 who hail from "several Middle Eastern nations" will be allowed to reach the U.K. He said Cyprus is now processing asylum applications from "a handful" of migrants.

Tully said those who don't claim asylum remain the responsibility of the bases and may be returned to their "point of origin."

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7:20 p.m.

The government official overseeing the Netherland's response to the migrant crisis says the country has offered 35 more staff to the European Union's Frontex border agency.

State Secretary for Justice Klaas Dijkhoff said Wednesday the Dutch government recently offered to send interpreters, military police and port police to help tackle the flow of people pouring into Europe. The new Dutch contingent comes on top of 120 extra staff pledged to Frontex earlier this year by the Netherlands.

In a written statement issued after meeting German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere in Berlin, Dijkhoff called the flow of migrants, "the biggest test of European cooperation in recent history" and a "common problem that we must solve together."

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5:10 p.m.

Every day on Greek's eastern island of Lesbos, volunteers are helping to save the lives of refugees braving the perilous sea journey from Turkey.

Essan Daod, a Palestinian surgeon, has helped deliver a baby on the beach, treated countless broken bones and revived more unconscious infants than he can remember. He says some days are "like a battlefield," especially Oct. 28, when a large smuggling boat sank, killing 40 people. Some 240 others were rescued.

Spanish lifeguards from Proactiva Open Arms seem to be there every time a dinghy in distress reaches northern Lesbos, using jet skis to bring migrants tossed in the rough seas to shore.

And as the weather and the water turn colder, volunteers from Norway are helping refugees get warm as they step of the boats onto Lesbos — handing out shoes, dry clothing, blankets and soup. Hernrik Kjellmo Larsen, 23, says "we saw what was happening and thought we just can't stand for this."

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4:45 p.m.

Greece's national Olympic committee says it strongly opposes the idea of using a former Olympic velodrome in Athens to temporarily shelter refugees who are reaching the country by the thousands each day.

The committee said Wednesday that all available sporting venues are "absolutely necessary" to help Greek athletes prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. It said the velodrome is the only available racing venue in the country and using it for refugees would cause competitive cycling to "completely wither" in Greece.

The government has not confirmed press reports that it wants to house refugees in the velodrome. Several disused former Olympic venues in Athens are being used to temporarily shelter migrants, more than 600,000 of whom have reached Greece this year.

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4:20 p.m.

Hungarian prosecutors are taking over the criminal case in which 71 refugees were found dead in the back of a truck in neighboring Austria.

The Office of Hungary's Prosecutor General said Wednesday it had accepted a request by the Austrian justice ministry to take over the proceedings.

Five men — four Bulgarians and one Afghan — have been arrested in Hungary in connection with the deaths. The 71 bodies, many still unidentified, were discovered Aug. 27 in a refrigerated truck parked in the safety lane of the main Budapest-to-Vienna A4 highway.

Prosecutors say the truck set off from the central Hungarian city of Kecskemet before traffickers picked up the migrants near Hungary's southern border with Serbia. They say the refugees likely suffocated to death while the truck was still in Hungary.

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3:55 p.m.

Turkey's president has accused European nations of being too selective and discriminatory in their policies of accepting refugees, saying they will one day be remembered for their "shameful" attitudes.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that European nations had "panicked" in the face the hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers reaching EU borders, whereas Turkey had already accepted 2.5 million Syrian refugees.

He said European countries were accepting refugees according "to their education, faith, ability, age and health" without humanitarian considerations.

Erdogan says "the problem in Syria and Iraq will one day end and these people will return to their countries, their cities and their homes. What they will remember is Turkey's humanitarian stance and the shameful attitude displayed by the West."

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3:05 p.m.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says Greece has taken on a "responsibility beyond its means" in handling the massive influx of refugees entering the European Union while enduring a financial crisis.

Speaking Wednesday after meeting with European Parliament President Martin Schulz, Tsipras said the financial crisis had caused a "humanitarian crisis domestically" and his government wanted European creditors to show "the same solidarity that we are showing to the refugees."

At a separate news conference in Athens, however, EU financial affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici indicated it was unlikely the EU would relax bailout conditions for Greece.

The bailout rules must be implemented and "nothing must lead to relaxing the reforms," he said.

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2:50 p.m.

Norwegian police say a record number of 196 asylum-seekers in one day have crossed into Norway from Russia at a remote Arctic border post.

Police said Wednesday the migrants arrived Tuesday, mostly by riding across on newly bought bicycles because pedestrian crossings are not allowed at the border in Storskog.

Norwegian NTB news agency said 174 refugees had arrived Monday from Russia and more than 3,000 people have used that route to enter northern Norway.

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1:30 p.m.

France says authorities have detained eight people accused of being involved in a smuggling ring that brings migrants to Britain by rubber boat from the northern French city of Dunkirk.

Thousands fleeing war and poverty have gathered around the French port cities of Calais, Dunkirk and others in hopes of sneaking across the English Channel in ferries or undersea trains to Britain. More than a dozen have died this year attempting the dangerous journey.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Wednesday that smugglers were charging up to 12,000 euros ($13,100) for the trip across the Channel.

Cazeneuve said French authorities have dismantled 200 smuggling networks and detained more than 3,000 people so far this year in investigating human trafficking networks.

He said French-British cooperation against illegal migration has been reinforced since he met Monday with British Home Secretary Theresa May.

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1:10 p.m.

Cyprus police say a court has ordered three men held for eight days on suspicion of people smuggling after crews rescued 26 people on a boat in trouble off the Mediterranean island's southeastern tip.

Police spokesman Andreas Angelides told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the men — aged 30, 48 and 35 — are being investigated on charges of helping migrants enter Cyprus illegally and of conspiracy to commit a crime.

Angelides said each of 26 people — including 13 children — had paid $1,000 to board the boat, which is believed to have left Friday from Tripoli, Lebanon.

Rough seas and strong winds hampered the rescue operation late Tuesday, but authorities believe all on the boat were saved.

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10:40 a.m.

France's top security official says 200 human-trafficking networks have been dismantled since the beginning of the year, including 30 in the tense Calais region where thousands of migrants are hoping to cross the Channel for a better life in Britain.

In an interview with Europe 1 radio Wednesday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said any French citizens caught trafficking would be punished. Ahead of a news conference by the local prosecutor, he did not confirm the Europe 1 report of a French fisherman's arrest in a smuggling network in the northern port of Dunkirk.

Northern France, in particular the Calais region, has become the increasingly desperate temporary resting spot for thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty at home. Dunkirk, 50 kilometers (30 miles) away, is also a major port.

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10:05 a.m.

Germany's federal police are conducting raids against international human trafficking networks across Germany. More than 500 officers were conducting searches of 24 homes in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Baden-Wuerttemberg.

A federal police spokesman said Wednesday they were targeting "criminal, internationally operating trafficking groups." The spokesman, who did not give his name in line with department policy, said the raids were still ongoing.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have flooded to Germany in recent months seeking to escape war and poverty and start a new life. Many of them pay smugglers to take them across the border into the country.

—by Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin

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9:45 a.m.

Greece's coast guard says 65 people have been rescued from a boat carrying people from Turkey to the nearby Greek island of Lesbos but five bodies were recovered from the water.

The coast guard said Wednesday the bodies were three children and two men. The migrant boat ran into trouble north of Lesbos on Tuesday night.

The coast guard says a total of 457 people were rescued between Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning in the Aegean Sea in 13 separate incidents.

More than 600,000 people have arrived in Greece so far this year, with most arriving on Lesbos. From there, they make their way to the Greek mainland on ferries and head north to more prosperous European Union countries.

Thousands of migrants are stranded on Lesbos due to a ferry strike that began Monday.

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8:30 a.m.

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn says the symbolic gesture of Wednesday's relocation of the first 30 refugees from Greece to his country is "only a start, but a very, very important start."

He and other EU officials say the practice of some EU countries to erect barbed wire fences at their borders in an effort to keep refugees out was not in line with European values.

Asselborn says "walls, fences and barbed wire cannot be part of the European Union."

He said that if Europe fails to change such images as well as bouts of xenophobia, "then the values of the European Union are destroyed in some way."

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7:45 a.m.

The first group of refugees to be relocated from Greece has boarded a plane in Athens bound for Luxembourg.

They include six families from Syria and Iraq. They form the start of a program to relocate refugees who have arrived in Greece from nearby Turkey to other European Union countries without them having to make the arduous and often dangerous journey across the Balkans on foot.

More than 600,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece so far this year, most in the last few months. Hundreds of others have died as their overloaded, unseaworthy boats overturned or sank in the Aegean.

On Tuesday night, four people — two children and two men — drowned trying to reach Greece.