The Latest: Migrants reach Austrian border

AP News
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Posted: Sep 05, 2015 1:29 AM
The Latest: Migrants reach Austrian border

BICSKE, Hungary (AP) — The latest news as tens of thousands of migrants pour into countries across Europe. All times local (CET):

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7 a.m.

More than 1,000 people from the Middle East and Asia, exhausted after breaking away from police and marching for hours toward Western Europe, have arrived before dawn Saturday on the border with Austria.

The breakthrough became possible when Austria announced that it and Germany would take the migrants on humanitarian grounds and to aid their EU neighbor.

In jubilant scenes on the border, hundreds of migrants bearing blankets over their shoulders to provide cover from heavy rains walked off from buses and into Austria, where volunteers at a roadside Red Cross shelter offered them hot tea and handshakes of welcome.

Many collapsed in exhaustion on the floor, smiles on their faces.

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1:25 a.m.

Migrants stranded for days in Hungary are boarding buses chartered by the government to take them to the border with Austria, which says it and Germany will grant them unhindered entry.

Migrants at Budapest's Keleti railway terminal — where international trains to Austria and Germany were suspended Tuesday — and hundreds of others who were walking on the main highway toward Western Europe can be seen climbing on buses early Saturday.

The Hungarian government has said the migrants will be taken to Hegyeshalom, Hungary's main border crossing with Austria.

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1:06 a.m.

Austria's chancellor says his country and Germany will grant unhindered entry to migrants being bused to the Austrian border.

Chancellor Werner Faymann announced the decision early Saturday after speaking with Angela Merkel, his German counterpart.

A statement from Faymann's office says the move is prompted by the "present emergency situation on the Hungarian border."

At the same time, the statement says Hungary is expected to abide by European Union agreements relevant to those seeking asylum. Asylum requests usually have to be dealt with by the first EU country reached.

Faymann also says he expects Hungary to accept any future EU rules mandating country quotas for asylum seekers.

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A U.N. human rights official says the refugee and migrant crisis can't be solved "just by closing the door" and declaring war on smugglers and traffickers.

"Those desperate people will go through windows if you close the doors," the assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, told reporters at U.N. headquarters.

He says ending the crisis requires addressing the root causes — conflicts, human rights challenges and economic despair — that lead people to flee.

Simonovic says 86 percent of refugees are in developing countries, with the highest numbers in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Kenya. The countries are so "saturated" that Europe "sees them at their doorstep."

He isn't opposed to going after smugglers, but he warns that arresting them will raise the risks for refugees and the prices they will have to pay to reach Europe.

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10:05 p.m.

Hungary says it will send a fleet of buses to the main Keleti train station in Budapest and to the M1 highway heading to Vienna after hundreds of migrants decided to stop waiting for permission to get on trains and set off for Austria on foot.

In striking scenes, over 1,200 migrants walked all day and into the night along the highway, sometimes disrupting traffic with their vast numbers. At a train station in the northern town of Bicske, several hundred other migrants refused police demands to go to a camp, broke through a police cordon and took off for the Austrian border.

Janos Lazar, chief of staff for Prime Minister Viktor Orban says "this is a opportunity. The immigrants have to decide whether they want to take advantage of it. We are taking this step so Hungary's transportation is not paralyzed during the next 24 hours."

He said the buses will take the migrants to the main Hegyeshalom crossing with Austria. It's not clear, however, if the migrants will trust authorities and get on the buses. They were tricked earlier this week to get on a train that did not go to Austria.

Also there's no answer yet from Austria whether they will let the migrants in.

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9:30 p.m.

In a surprise late announcement, the Hungarian government says it will offer buses to take hundreds of migrants to the border with Austria.

Earlier Friday, some 1,200 frustrated migrants left the Keleti train terminal in Budapest to walk all day along the city's main highway to Vienna.

Janos Lazar, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, said Friday night in Parliament the buses would be sent because Hungarians' "transportation safety can't be put at risk."

Lazar said Hungary had asked Austria to clarify its position on the migrants but had not yet received an answer. Lazar said "a migration crisis is shaking Hungary" and blamed Germany's "contradictory communications" and the European Union's incompetence for the crisis.

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9:15 p.m.

Slovakia has brushed aside a European Union proposal to share an additional 120,000 refugees in Greece, Hungary and Italy among their EU partners even before the offer is officially made public.

Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak said Friday that "quotas solve nothing. We hear there are four million migrants in Turkey now, so where is it going to stop?"

Lajcak told reporters in Luxembourg that "the quotas are small part of the solution and we believe that European Union members pay too much attention to this small part."

The president of the EU's executive Commission is due to unveil the new relocation plan next week. EU leaders announced a plan in June to share 40,000 refugees arriving in Greece and Italy but some nations still refuse to accept their share.

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9 p.m.

The U.S. says it is providing $26.6 million to the U.N. refugee agency to help it provide food, water and legal assistance to refugees traveling through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Friday the U.S. has provided more than $4 billion in humanitarian aid to those affected by Syria's four-year civil war.

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8 p.m.

A European Union official says the EU's plan to distribute an additional 120,000 migrants across the 28-nation bloc includes relocating 54,000 migrants from Hungary.

The call for additional sharing of migrants is expected to be key point in European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's address to the European Parliament next Wednesday. It comes on top of the EU plan this spring to relocate 40,000 migrants, which is now deemed insufficient.

An EU official, who asked not to be identified because the proposal still has to be made, said the plan would also redistribute 50,400 migrants from Greece and 15,600 from Italy.

— Raf Casert in Brussels.

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7:45 p.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says four suspected human traffickers detained in connection with the drowning of 12 migrants face charges of smuggling and involuntary manslaughter.

The Anadolu Agency says the four, including a Syrian national, were being questioned Friday by a court in the Turkish resort town of Bodrum.

The 12 who drowned included the 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, whose haunting image highlighted the plight of migrants. He died along with 5-year-old brother and their mother when their small boat capsized as it headed for Greece.

The three were buried Friday in Kobani, northern Syria — the hometown they had fled.

Twenty-four other Syrians, including five children, swam to shore after their boat capsized off Bodrum, Anadolu said.

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6:35 p.m.

The number of migrants flowing into Europe is staggering this year.

The International Organization for Migration says more than 364,000 migrants have arrived in Europe so far — and over 2,800 have died along the way, most in the sea crossing from North Africa.

Greece and Italy have been the hardest-hit nations, seeing over 245,000 and nearly 117,000 arrive respectively, the vast majority by sea. Hungary said more than 163,000 migrants had crossed its land border.

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6:15 p.m.

Hungarian authorities say a migrant has died at the train station in Bicske, collapsing as he fled a train where he had been stuck for two days with about 500 other migrants.

The man was among about 350 migrants who broke through a riot police cordon in the northern town to head west to Austria. In a standoff, the migrants had refused to go to a Hungarian processing center and police had refused to let the train travel on to Austria.

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6:00 p.m.

British Prime Minister David Cameron says his government will consult with non-governmental organizations and others before saying how many Syrian refugees will be accepted into the UK.

Cameron said during a visit to Lisbon, Portugal on Friday that Britain would accept "thousands more" Syrian refugees. Hours later in Madrid, he said the exact number will be worked out in coming days.

Britain will receive only Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East. The aim of that, Cameron said, was to "send the message out that the best way to get a new life is not to make this perilous journey" across the Mediterranean to Europe.

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5:55 p.m.

British Prime Minister David Cameron says Britain will increase its aid for victims of the Syrian conflict by 100 million pounds ($152 million) to 1 billion pounds.

Cameron warned Friday, however, that "resettling refugees is not the answer to the problem."

He said, "To bring this crisis to an end, you need a comprehensive approach — you need a government in Libya, you need a solution in Syria," he said.

He said Britain won't join bombing operations against the Islamic State group in Syria until there is "genuine consensus" for that among the British people.

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5:30 p.m.

Germany says customs authorities have intercepted packages mailed to Germany containing Syrian passports, both genuine and counterfeit.

Finance Ministry spokeswoman Friederike von Tiesenhausen said Friday that federal police are examining the passports, which were found during routine checks.

The chief of European Union border agency Frontex says trafficking in fake Syrian passports has increased, notably in Turkey. Syrians fleeing their country's civil war have a good chance of winning asylum in EU nations, making a Syrian passport very attractive.

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5:20 p.m.

In a joint statement, the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are rejecting any quota system for accepting migrants in the European Union's 28 members.

Europe is staggering under an enormous surge of migrants this year, over 364,000 so far, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The four EU leaders said the bloc's approach should include "preserving the voluntary nature of EU solidarity measures." They insisted "any proposal leading to introduction of mandatory and permanent quota for solidarity measures would be unacceptable."

Germany expects to face 800,000 asylum applications this year and is pressing other EU nations to do more.

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5:10 p.m.

Nearly a dozen new leftist Spanish town halls are working to create a network of cities to assist war refugees and say Spain should take in more migrants than the 2,739 the conservative government has agreed on.

The "refugee city" program started when Barcelona mayor Ada Colau announced the creation of a register of people who can take in or help refugees. She said Friday the city hall has received thousands offers.

Other cities such as Madrid and Valencia have followed suit. Madrid mayor Manuela Carmena promised to dedicate 10 million euros ($11 million) to the project.

Opposition groups have criticized the government's reluctance to take in more migrants. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Friday that Spain will probably take in more than previously announced.

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4:55 p.m.

Amnesty International says angry Greeks brandishing bats attacked migrants on the island of Kos shouting "Go back to your countries!" — and that Greek police did not intervene quickly enough.

The rights group is urging Greek and European authorities to swiftly improve the "hellish" conditions faced by thousands of migrants awaiting screening on the eastern Aegean Sea island.

It said Friday that staffers saw a violent attack late Thursday by up to 25 people against the migrants. Amnesty said Greek police only intervened, using tear gas, after the physical attacks had started.

The rights group says up to 4,000 migrants are on Kos and the situation is very dire.

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4:40 p.m.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says the migration influx into Europe will be the continent's most important challenge for years and that European nations cannot refuse asylum to those who deserve it.

But Rajoy would not commit Spain to taking more than the 2,739 refugees it has pledged to accept. His position has been criticized by opposition politicians and contrasts with the 800,000 migrants Germany expects to face in this year.

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4:25 p.m.

Hundreds of migrants have broken through a Hungarian riot police cordon at the Bicske train station, running westward on a train track and interrupting train traffic.

Surprised riot police scrambled for their helmets Friday as the huge crowd suddenly surged from the front of the train, site of a daylong standoff. Police pushed some migrants back onto the train amid much shouting, screaming and infants crying but were only able to block a minority of the estimated 500 migrants.

An Associated Press reporter saw at least 200 migrants, probably more, running along the railway line west of Bicske, heading for Austria 135 kilometers (84 miles) away.

The migrants had refused police demands to go to a processing center.

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3:55 p.m.

Hundreds of frustrated migrants are marching out of Budapest, vowing to reach the Austrian border by foot after Hungarian authorities blocked them from taking west-bound trains.

Carrying bags and backpacks, they snaked through Budapest in a line nearly a half-mile long, hampering traffic at times, as they began the 171-kilometer (106-mile) journey to Austria.

The migrants, many Syrians fleeing war, want to eventually reach Germany or elsewhere in the West and are trying to avoid registering in economically depressed Hungary.

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3:35 p.m.

Authorities in northern Greece say a refugee from Syria has been killed by a train while walking along railway tracks in the dark after entering the country from neighboring Turkey.

The 45-year-old man, who was carrying transit documents issued to migrants in Turkey, was hit early Friday near the village of Petrades. The train driver told police he was unable to brake in time.

While most migrants entering Greece from Turkey arrive by boat, some still cross the land border in Thrace, which mostly follows the Evros River. Greece has built a 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) fence along the remaining stretch where there is no natural obstacle.

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3:25 p.m.

Germany is calling on European Union nations to restore a sense of unity in the face of the Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Friday "we will not cope with this task if we do not stop pointing with the finger at our neighbor." He said "blaming one another will not lead us to get the problem under control."

Steinmeier said that "Europe cannot let itself be divided, even in the face of such a challenge."

Hungary has blamed Germany for encouraging more Syrians to apply for asylum.

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3 p.m.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos says a fast-track processing center will be set up at Greece's main port of Piraeus, near Athens, where European teams will quickly fingerprint and process migrants.

He spoke Friday during a visit to the Greek island of Kos, which has been overwhelmed by a flood of migrants from the nearby Turkish coast. The center will determine who among those arriving is a refugee fleeing persecution or war and therefore entitled to asylum in Europe, and who is an economic migrant, who will be sent home.

Avramopoulos said the migration crisis is "directly linked to the geopolitical instability" of nearby countries. He added it "will not end in a night. And no measure can deal with it quickly and effectively. Method, systems are needed, political will is needed."

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2 p.m.

Ireland has announced it will take in at least 1,800 refugees, tripling initial plans announced in July to accept roughly 600 over the next two years.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said Friday that a more comprehensive response is needed to the "heartbreaking and tragic" events unfolding. She said the number accepted will be "in the thousands" but that no precise figure has been determined yet.

Fitzgerald is also calling for increased aid programs and an extension of the naval search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean.

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1:55 p.m.

Slovak police say a small truck with 23 refugees from Syria on the way from Hungary to Germany has been involved in a fatal crash in northwestern Slovakia.

Police spokesman Martin Waldl says the Peugeot Lamar vehicle with a Polish plate carrying the migrants collided head-on Thursday with a car near the town of Cadca, near the border with the Czech Republic and Poland.

Waldl says the Polish driver was detained as well the refugees — 20 men and three teenagers — who fled the site of the crash. One person from the other car was killed.

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1:50 p.m.

The German government is declining to offer advice to Hungary on how to deal with migrants who refuse to be registered at camps there.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Friday he "can't give any recommendations to the Hungarian authorities or anyone else in the absence of precise knowledge of the situation in and around Budapest."

Refugees are trying to avoid Hungarian camps because they don't want to pursue asylum claims there. Hungary says the influx is Germany's problem because most want to go to Germany.

Seibert reiterated Berlin's position that a pan-European response is required. He noted Budapest's obligation to register, process and take care of migrants and said Germany "assumes that Hungary, as part of the Western community of values, will do justice to its legal and humanitarian obligations."

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1:45 p.m.

The mayor of the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos is appealing for "immediate measures" to help alleviate the acute refugee and migrant crisis on his island, which is the entry point for about half of the hundreds of thousands who have arrived in Greece so far this year.

Spyros Galinos described the situation as a bomb about to explode in his hands. "I appeal to the prime minister for immediate measures," he told state television Friday. "We will have victims."

Earlier Friday, clashes broke out between police and about 1,000 people, mostly Afghans, who attempted to rush onto a ferry heading to Greece's main port of Piraeus, near Athens. Police fired stun grenades to repel the stone-throwing crowd.

Galinos said there were about 15,000 migrants on his island, of whom 7,000-8,000 were already registered and waiting to leave Lesbos for Athens but were unable to find ferry tickets. The government has chartered two ferries to transport the migrants, but with thousands of new arrivals each day, that has not been enough.

Galinos said he had proposed extra ferries as well as charter flights to defuse the overcrowding on the island. "I don't need one ship, I need a fleet," he said.

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1:40 p.m.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans says the refugee and migrant crisis is nothing less than "a moment of truth in European history."

Speaking amid the chaos of arriving migrants on the Greek island of Kos, Timmermans said the EU is still looking for a balance between protecting those needing shelter and keeping those out who only seek economic fortune.

He said the "organized solidarity" of the European welfare state "would be completely undermined if we simply say everybody can come in." Timmermans added though that "Europe cannot survive either if we take leave of our values and our legal obligations" for those seeking protection from persecution and war.

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1:20 p.m.

Police say the 71 people found dead in a truck last week on an Austrian highway probably suffocated but it will take weeks to be able to say so for sure.

They also said the victims, found Aug. 27 on the safety lane of the main highway from Hungary, included Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees.

Hans Peter Doskozil, police chief in Burgenland where the truck was found, said Friday in a similar case on the same day the bodies were found, 81 migrants managed to pry open another truck with a crow bar to gain access to fresh air.

He said no identities have yet been established yet and forensic work will continue for weeks.

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12:45 p.m.

German police say they're investigating a fire at home for asylum seekers in the western state of Hesse in which five people were injured.

Police told the dpa news agency Friday it was too early to say if the blaze overnight at the building in Heppenheim was arson.

One man was seriously injured after he jumped from the second floor, while four others are being treated for minor smoke inhalation. The building's approximately 60 residents are now being cared for by the Red Cross.

Germans have generally been welcoming to the recent flood of migrants but there have been a string of attacks on unoccupied homes for asylum-seekers.

In Estonia, more than 50 people, including 13 children, were evacuated from an asylum center in Vao on Thursday following a fire that is being investigated as arson. No one was injured.

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12:30 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency says Britain will take a further 4,000 Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East.

"We obviously welcome very much the move to increase resettlement spaces for Syrians in the UK. Those spaces are going to be critical to the lives and future of 4,000 people," said spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.

Earlier, British Prime Minister David Cameron said only that his country would accept "thousands" more people, on top of the 5,000 already announced, and would give details next week. A spokeswoman in the 10 Downing Street press office refused to confirm or deny the figure of 4,000.

—By Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Greg Katz in London.

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12:10 p.m.

Greece's coast guard says it has rescued hundreds of refugees and migrants from the sea near the eastern Aegean islands, a daily occurrence as hundreds of thousands flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia toward Europe.

The coast guard said it picked up 535 people in 12 incidents off the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Agathonissi, Kalolymnos and Kos from Thursday morning to Friday morning. That doesn't include hundreds who make it to the islands from the nearby Turkish coast themselves.

Scuffles broke out with police at Lesbos port Friday when about 1,000 people tried to rush onto a ferry to Piraeus, local media reported.

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11:50 a.m.

British Prime Minister David Cameron says the United Kingdom will accept "thousands more" Syrian refugees to help Europe cope with a massive influx of migrants and refugees.

Cameron said Friday his country has already agreed to take around 5,000 Syrians fleeing from their country's war but as the crisis has grown it planned to accept more.

He says Britain intends to take Syrians directly from refugee camps in the Middle East, not from places where they have arrived in Europe. He said "Britain will act with our head and our heart" on the issue.