The Latest: Slovenian police pepper spray migrants at border

AP News
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Posted: Sep 18, 2015 5:00 PM
The Latest: Slovenian police pepper spray migrants at border

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — The latest developments as European governments rush to cope with the huge number of people moving across Europe. All times local (CET):

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10:50 p.m.

A Hungarian official says 40 Croatian police officers have been disarmed and registered after crossing the border without prior notice while escorting a train with 1,000 migrant into Hungary.

Gyorgy Bakondi, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's homeland security adviser, said Friday that the train was seized and its conductor placed in police custody, while the migrants were sent to registration centers where they may request asylum.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs denied statements by Croatian officials claiming the transport of migrants to Hungary had been coordinated and agreed on by the two governments.

Kovacs said the migrants arriving from Croatia were "coming toward the border without prior consultation, without respecting official channels."

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10:05 p.m.

Slovenian riot police have pepper sprayed about 500 migrants on a bridge along the Croatian border.

The migrants were at the Harmica border crossing Friday night, demanding to be let into Slovenia but were blocked by a line of about 50 riot police. As migrants pushed and shoved to break through the police line, they were pepper sprayed.

The asylum-seekers were staying near the border crossing over the Sutla River, washing their eyes out with water.

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9:35 p.m.

Croatian police say 17,089 migrants have entered the country in the last three days, part of a massive influx of people heading toward Western Europe.

Police said Friday that Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic has scheduled a meeting with local officials in the crisis-hit region near the border with Serbia.

Croatia has said it was overwhelmed by the influx and was letting people move on toward Slovenia and Hungary.

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9:25 p.m.

Slovenia's prime minister says establishing a transit corridor for migrants through the small Alpine nation toward Western Europe is an option if the influx becomes overwhelming.

Prime Minister Miro Cerar said Friday that Slovenian authorities are in contact with neighboring countries like Croatia.

Hundreds of migrants have entered Slovenia from Croatia since Thursday, but the numbers are expected to rise after more than 17,000 people poured into neighboring Croatia in just three days.

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8:25 p.m.

In the latest moves in Europe's migrant crisis, Croatia has sent hundreds of people to Hungary by train, and the Hungarians in turn have boarded them onto another train that apparently was headed to Austria.

Croatian authorities, who have also used buses to quickly help migrants pass through their country, said 810 people were on the train.

One migrant told The Associated Press they were being taken to Austria. Authorities would not confirm that.

The AP saw Hungarian officials unloading people from the Croatian trains one by one in the Hungarian border town of Magyarboly. Without looking at their documents or registering them, they then loaded the people onto different trains.

The Hungarian special forces handling the migrants carried rifles and had trucks with automatic grenade launchers.

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8:05 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has discussed the migrant crisis with Croatia's prime minister and both agree "the problem must be solved at the European Union's external borders."

The German government statement also said Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told Merkel on Friday about Croatia's efforts "to comply fully with its obligations" in making sure all refugees are being treated humanely.

Germany has been among those pushing for new "hot spot" camps in Greece and Italy, where migrants would be registered.

From EU member Greece, migrants seeking safety in Europe cross Macedonia and Serbia then re-enter the EU in Hungary or, most recently, Croatia. Many want to settle in Germany.

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7:50 p.m.

Slovenia says it has summoned the Croatian ambassador after Zagreb said it will let migrants proceed toward the border with Slovenia en route toward Western Europe.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec said Friday that Croatian ambassador Vesna Terzic has been notified that his government is not honoring the EU rules on migration.

Croatia says it is overwhelmed by the influx of more than 15,400 people in three days and cannot record them all.

Slovenian police say hundreds of migrants have entered the country from Croatia in the past 24 hours and they are being registered. Slovenia has also suspended railway traffic with Croatia to prevent migrants from arriving on trains.

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7:45 p.m.

About 500 people have gathered on the Croatian border, chanting and demanding to be let into Slovenia, while 50 Slovenian riot police on the other side are keeping them out.

The asylum-seekers who gathered Friday at the Harmica border crossing, some with children on their shoulders, are shouting "We're going to Slovenia!" and "Freedom! Freedom!" The border crossing is a bridge across the narrow Sutla River in the southern part of the country.

Croatia is trying to move along the 15,400 people who have arrived in the country over the past few days, but Slovenia does not want to let them in. Most want to move on to countries like Germany and Sweden.

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7:20 p.m.

A former Hungarian prime minister says video footage shows that Hungarian police opened a gate at the border with Croatia and then attacked migrants who tried to go through.

Ferenc Gyurcsany said Friday he believed the police attack Wednesday was carried out "without a doubt" on direct orders of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Gyurcsany said videos from international and Hungarian sources show the migrants walking across the gate shouting "Thank you! Thank you!" before police closed ranks and drove them back with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons, hitting some with batons.

Government officials have denied that police opened the border gate and call the clash an "armed attack against police" by rock-throwing migrants.

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7:05 p.m.

Officials from Serbia and Hungary say they hope the main border crossing between the two countries will reopen soon after it was shut down following clashes between migrants and Hungarian border police.

Serbia's Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Friday after talks with Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto that the Horgos crossing on the main highway connecting the nations could open for traffic "as soon as tomorrow."

Officials say both countries have suffered economic losses because of the closure.

Hungary shut down the main border crossing after using tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons to repel migrants seeking to enter the country from Serbia on their journey toward the rich Western European nations.

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6:55 p.m.

Slovenia has extended a suspension of railway traffic with Croatia that was introduced after scores of migrants entered the country on an international passenger train.

The Slovenian Railway company said Friday that the suspension will be in force until 6 a.m. Saturday (0400GMT). Officials had initially planned to resume railway traffic Friday afternoon.

Slovenia apparently wants to prevent the migrants from arriving into the country by train, after some 14,000 people flooded into Croatia in just a few days. About 150 migrants who arrived in Slovenia on a Switzerland-bound train on Thursday have been taken to a refugee center for registration.

Slovenia has said it would return the migrants to Croatia. It says providing a corridor for migration is against the rules of the EU's visa-free travel zone.

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6:45 p.m.

Macedonia's parliament has approved a government proposal extending a state of emergency on the country's northern and southern borders until mid-June next year due to the refugee crisis.

Interior Minister Mitko Cavkov said Friday the decision followed predictions that the flow of asylum-seekers will continue to pressure the borders with Greece and Serbia.

Macedonian police said more than 83,000 have transited through the small Balkan nation in the last three months. Cavkov said 300,000 had passed through this year.

"We are facing an extremely complex problem that has shown that no country has sufficient capacity to solve alone," Cakov said, adding that Skopje had appealed for a global solution. "Unfortunately, there is no such a solution yet. . Each country is left alone trying to deal with the problem."

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6:40 p.m.

Greece's caretaker government says work has almost been completed on a new reception center in northern Greece for asylum-seekers.

Macedonia-Thrace Minister Philippos Tsalidis briefed the prime minister Friday on progress of the work in the Idomeni border area, from which those arriving in Greece from Turkey attempt to cross and head north toward more prosperous parts of the European Union. He also gave an update on the construction of a new center near the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Prime Minister Vassiliki Thanou, whose roughly three-week term ends after Sunday's election, said all necessary infrastructure and equipment for the refugee reception center had been secured and would be at the disposal of the government that emerges from the Sept. 20 ballot.

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6 p.m.

Hundreds of migrants have been stopped by Turkish law enforcement on a highway near the Turkish border city of Edirne, causing a massive traffic jam.

The migrants, who have been camping out for days in a bid to cross into EU nations Greece or Bulgaria, had been told earlier by Edirne Gov. Dursun Ali Sahin that 200 of them would be allowed to visit the Greek border.

"There you can say everything to the press and cameras," he said. "But this crossing is not possible."

But the migrants were stopped Friday after setting out for reasons that remain unclear. Repeated calls to the Edirne governor's office went unanswered.

In Istanbul, hundreds of migrants continued to camp out a large mosque near the city's Esenler bus station in the hope of joining their compatriots in Edirne. Anis Issa, a 22-year-old from Aleppo, said police weren't letting anyone in or out.

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5:45 p.m.

Hungarian police have posted photographs and are searching for the alleged leaders of clash on the Serbian border in which dozens of people were injured.

A police statement Friday in Hungarian, English, German and Arabic asked for information about the men, one of whom used a megaphone to apparently give instructions to the crowd.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to push back hundreds of migrants who tried to break through a checkpoint Wednesday on the Serbian border.

Migrants threw rocks, water bottles and other objects at police, injuring 20 officers, two seriously, while police used batons against some migrants.

Journalists covering the riot were also injured.

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5:25 p.m.

Europe's migration affairs commissioner says a "great effort" is being made to reach a consensus in Europe over how to deal with the continent's migrant crisis.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, speaking Friday in Athens after meeting with Greek caretaker Prime Minister Vassiliki Thanou, said Greece "is still under pressure" but the situation at the country's entry points had improved.

Avramopoulos admitted the last EU interior ministers' meeting was not successful and that four countries disagreed with proposals for each nation to receive a quota of asylum seekers.

He says "a great effort is being made now ... for them to understand that the time has come for them to act in a European way."

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5:15 p.m.

German authorities plan to set up tents for up to 5,000 people at a military facility in Bavaria where newly arrived migrants could be taken temporarily before being distributed to more permanent accommodation.

Bavarian Interior Ministry spokesman Stefan Frey said the plan is to put up the tents in a few days' time at the barracks in Feldkirchen, near the town of Straubing. He said they could be used as a "waiting area" for migrants newly arrived at the border in case extra accommodation is needed for newcomers.

Germany has been a prime destination for the thousands of migrants arriving in Europe.

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5 p.m.

Hungary's foreign minister says the behavior of neighboring Croatia's prime minister in the handling of the migrant crisis is "pathetic."

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a statement Friday that instead of criticizing Hungary, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic "should say what he did wrong during preparations for the arrival of migrants and why Croatia was unable to tend to the migrant after a single day."

Szijjarto said that instead of abiding by EU rules, Croatia was encouraging thousands of migrants to cross the border illegally, which Hungary now considers a felony.

Hungary has begun to build a fence on the border with Croatia and will set up a "transit zone" near the village of Beremend where migrants entering from Croatia can request asylum.

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4:30 p.m.

The German government has moved quickly to appoint a new head of the national immigration authority.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere announced Friday that Frank-Juergen Weise will become president of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, which has been criticized for backlogs in processing asylum applications. He described Weise as one of Germany's "best public managers."

His predecessor stepped down Thursday.

Germany expects some 800,000 migrants to arrive this year, with some estimates as high as 1 million, which would be around five times last year's total.

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4:20 p.m.

Hundreds of refugees, mainly from Iraq, have poured into Finland from Sweden in recent days.

Jaana Vuorio, head of Finland's immigration agency, said 11,263 people have sought asylum this year. She said on Thursday alone, 521 people — the highest number yet — had entered via Sweden.

Up to 30,000 asylum seekers are expected in Finland this year, compared to 3,651 last year.

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4 p.m.

Croatia has begun transporting migrants across the border to Hungary after the Croatian prime minister said his nation has been overwhelmed by 14,000 migrants in the last two days.

Nineteen buses carried migrants across the border Friday to Beremend, Hungary, where they were put on Hungarian buses. It was not clear where they were headed next.

Earlier, migrants arriving from Croatia were taken to a reception center in Hungary. Those asking for asylum will have their requests decided quickly, per a new law this week, while the rest could be sent back to Croatia.

The developments come as a huge wave of people fleeing violence in their homelands are trying to pass through the Balkans en route to Western Europe. None of the Balkan countries are willing or prepared to handle the crisis and have been trying to close off their borders, pushing the problem onto their neighbors.

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3:50 p.m.

The Vatican says a Syrian refugee family has taken up residence in the tiny Roman Catholic city-state, as promised by Pope Francis.

The Vatican said Friday the family of four arrived in Italy on Sept. 6, the day Francis appealed to Catholic parishes, convents and monasteries to each take in a family fleeing conflict and pledged the Vatican itself would take in two refugee families.

The family belongs to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, an Eastern rite church, and has already submitted an asylum application with Italy. They will remain guests of the Vatican while it is being processed.

The Vatican had no details yet on the second family.

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3:40 p.m.

The European statistics agency says 213,200 people have applied for asylum in the European Union in the second quarter of 2015, with Germany receiving more than a third of the new arrivals.

Eurostat says the number of people seeking refuge was 85 percent higher than a year earlier, and up 15 percent on the first three months of the year.

Syrians and Afghans together made up a third of all asylum applicants.

For those three months, Germany took in the biggest share, 38 percent of all applicants. Hungary had 15 percent, Austria had 8 percent and Italy, France and Sweden each had 7 percent.

Just under 400,000 people applied for asylum in the EU in the first half of 2015.

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3:20 p.m.

Croatia has sent buses full of migrants to Hungary just hours after the country's prime minister said it could not cope with the influx. But Hungarian police met the convoy of 19 buses in the border area and refused to let them cross in.

Associated Press reporters on both sides of the border watched the standoff Friday afternoon.

After more than 14,000 people surged into Croatia in just two days, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said they could not stay and would be redirected toward Hungary and Slovenia.

Those two nations have also moved to keep migrants out, however.

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2:45 p.m.

The Swiss government is offering to take in up to 1,500 refugees under a European Union plan to redistribute 40,000 people around the continent.

Switzerland isn't a member of the European Union but is part of the Schengen passport-free travel area. The government said Friday that it's prepared to take in up to 1,500 people who have already been registered in Italy and Greece, the main points of arrival.

The EU decided earlier this year to redistribute 40,000 people seeking refuge in overwhelmed Greece and Italy. However, it is still squabbling over proposals for EU nations to share out another 120,000 refugees.

Switzerland indicated that it would be prepared to take part in that program.

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2:45 p.m.

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn says the bloc will not leave Balkan countries to deal with the refugee crisis on their own.

Addressing the Macedonian parliament in Skopje Friday, he said all EU countries "have the task to protect the external borders."

Macedonia has seen tens of thousands of migrants cross from its southern border with Greece to its northern border with Serbia as they head to the more prosperous EU countries of the north. Macedonian police said that more than 83,000 have transited through the small Balkan nation in the last three months.

"You are not a parking lot for refugees, you are also victims of the situation and we won't leave you alone," Hahn said.

The commissioner was to visit the southern border area with Greece Saturday.

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2:15 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency is warning of a "buildup" of migrants in Serbia as its neighbors tighten their borders to the influx of people fleeing war and poverty.

Adrian Edwards of UNHCR says "the crisis is growing and being pushed from one country to another" as roughly 4,000 people pour into Greece each day and head north. He says stricter border controls by Hungary and Croatia threaten a bottleneck in Serbia, "which is not a country with a robust asylum system."

Speaking Friday, Edwards said: "You aren't going to solve these problems by closing borders."

UNHCR says more than 442,440 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year, and 2,921 have died trying. The International Organization for Migration puts those figures at 473,887 and 2,812 respectively.

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1:45 p.m.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says the European Union must take control of its borders or the European Schengen agreement for passport-free travel across the continent "will be challenged."

Valls says it is urgent to find an agreement on permanently relocating refugees, saying Europe currently is facing "an unprecedented migration."

Valls says the EU must also decide on a policy for returning people who left their home countries for economic reasons and don't qualify for asylum.

He spoke Friday in Stockholm where he met his Swedish counterpart Stefan Lofven ahead of a meeting on migrants in Vienna.

Both called for a solution where "all countries in the EU share their responsibility," Lofven said.

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1:35 p.m.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency has called for a joint European response to the migrant crisis, saying countries cannot cope individually.

Babar Baloch, regional spokesman for Central Europe for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said Friday that his organization is capable of handling the humanitarian response to the migrant crisis, but "what's missing is a collective EU action."

Baloch says that "within three days we can put in place mechanism for refugee arrivals," or "empty our warehouses in Dubai, Copenhagen and other places."

He adds "we know how to do the job, but the responsibility, the moral and legal responsibility here is on the countries in the European Union." Countries "need to do it together," he says.

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1:20 p.m.

Hungary's government spokesman says Croatia's decision to redirect migrants entering the country toward Hungary and Slovenia is "totally unacceptable."

Zoltan Kovacs told The Associated Press on Friday that although Croatia knew exactly what it would be confronted with, its "supply system collapsed in a single day. Hungary has been holding its own for the ninth consecutive month."

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said earlier that Croatia's capacities were full and the authorities could no longer register migrants in accordance with EU rules.

Kovacs said it was "totally unacceptable for a European country to not respect European rules just because it was unprepared," predicting that Croatia would be "set back by many years" in its efforts to join the EU's Schengen zone of passport-free travel.

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12:40 p.m.

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic says Croatia cannot and will not close its borders, but will redirect people toward Hungary and Slovenia and further toward Western Europe.

It wasn't immediately clear how that would solve the situation because both Hungary and Slovenia are taking steps to keep migrants out.

Milanovic said that Croatia's capacities are full and that the authorities no longer can register people in accordance with EU rules. He said the country will let them pass through and suggested it will transfer them to its borders, primarily the Hungarian border.

Milanovic said: "What else can we do? You are welcome in Croatia and you can pass through Croatia. But, go on. Not because we don't like you but because this is not your final destination."

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12:25 p.m.

German security officials say Islamic extremists are reaching out to migrants with the aim of recruiting them.

The head of Germany's domestic intelligence service said in an interview published Friday that "we can see that Salafists are presenting themselves as benefactors and helpers."

Hans-Georg Maassen told the Rheinische Post daily that the Salafists are "specifically seeking contact, issuing invitations to visit notorious mosques, in order to recruit refugees for their cause."

Security officials estimate that some 7,500 people in Germany subscribe to Salafism, a strict interpretation of Islam that rejects many modern democratic rights.

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12:00 p.m.

German officials say trains carrying migrants may be diverted past Munich in the coming days to prevent a clash with the city's annual beer festival.

Some 6 million visitors are expected to come to Munich for the Oktoberfest, which starts Saturday and runs through Oct. 4.

A spokesman for Munich police says special trains bringing migrants from the border may also be taken to a separate train station, or police could escort migrants arriving at the city's main station past the crowds of tourists.

Peter Beck told The Associated Press on Friday that he doesn't expect migrants to go to the festival grounds themselves.

Some 1,600 migrants came to Munich on Thursday, and another 300 arrived in the city Friday morning.

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11:50 a.m.

Slovenia's government has scheduled a meeting of its security council as the small Alpine nation braces for an influx of migrants from Croatia.

Authorities expect thousands of people will attempt to cross into Slovenia on Friday after more than 13,000 entered neighboring Croatia in little over two days.

Most migrants want to move on toward Western Europe. Slovenia's Prime Minister Miro Cerar has ruled out creating a north-bound corridor for the migrants.

Slovenia has said it will return migrants coming in from Croatia. Dozens attempting to cross have already been held up by Slovenian police.

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11:10 a.m.

Czech police and military will conduct a joint drill to be ready to deal with a possible increased numbers of migrants.

The drill will be conducted along the country's borders and will include hundreds of service members with planes and helicopters.

Interior Minister Milan Cjovanec says its goal is "to test the ability of the forces to cooperate in crisis situations."

Friday's announcement comes three days after Prime Minster Bohuslav Sobotka said his government is ready to deploy the armed forces to protect the country's borders against migrants.

Czech police already boosted its presence on the Austrian-Czech border on Sunday in response to Germany's decision to renew border controls along its border with Austria. But the Czechs haven't renewed border checks yet.

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11:00 a.m.

Five German soccer clubs say they are boycotting a show of solidarity for refugees this weekend.

SC Freiburg, VfL Bochum, 1. FC Nuernberg and 1. FC Union Berlin said on their website that players won't be wearing special patches promoted by German daily Bild.

Bochum and Nuernberg said they are distancing themselves from the event because of the newspaper's criticism of another club's refusal to take part.

FC St. Pauli, whose fans are traditionally left-wing, said earlier this week that it has long supported refugees and didn't want to participate in Bild's event.

The initiative was announced earlier this week and involved players carrying a patch on their left arm saying "We're helping, (hashtag)refugeeswelcome."

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10:50 a.m.

Germany's foreign minister says it may be necessary to force Eastern European countries to accept quotas for migrants.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier says in a newspaper interview published Friday that Germany, Austria, Sweden and Italy can't bear all the burden of migrants coming to Europe.

But some countries, mostly in Eastern Europe, have opposed consensus on the distribution of migrants according to pre-determined quotas.

Steinmeier told the Passauer Neue Presse daily that "if there is no other way we need to seriously consider using the instrument of a majority decision."

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10:40 a.m.

Treading slowly through vast areas of cornfields, groups of migrants have been entering Croatia despite the move by authorities to shut down almost all official border crossings with neighboring Serbia.

Some 2,000 people have gathered in the eastern Croatian border town of Tovarnik waiting for bus or train rides to the refugee centers. One train with eleven carriages left Friday morning carrying hundreds to refugee centers in the capital Zagreb and elsewhere.

Those still in Tovarnik are sitting of lying on the ground. Some are sleeping, others standing in groups, chatting and discussing what to do next.

Croatian police have been taking the migrants to the asylum centers for registration, but most want to move on toward Western Europe. Hundreds of those fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have been converging near the train station in the capital, Zagreb.

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9:50 a.m.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban says that his country has started building a razor-wire fence along a stretch of its border with Croatia to keep migrants from entering the country in that area.

Orban says the first phase of the 41-kilometer (25 mile) barrier will be completed on Friday, with coils of razor wire in place before an actual fence goes up.

He said on state radio that he is deploying hundreds of soldiers and police to the border to prepare the fence and defend the border.

Earlier this week Hungary sealed off its southern border with Serbia with a 4-meter (13-foot) high razor-wire fence and began arresting migrants who try to enter the country. Baton-wielding riot police also used tear gas and water cannons on migrants after a group tried to break through a gate on the Hungary-Serbia border.

Since then, some migrants have tried to enter Hungary through sections of the border with Croatia, while many others have opted to take a longer route through Croatia and Slovenia toward Western Europe.

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9:40 a.m.

Croatian police say some 13,300 migrants have entered the country from Serbia since the first groups started arriving more than two days ago.

Croatia on Friday closed all border crossings with Serbia except one in an effort to control the flow which has strained authorities.

Despite the move, migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have been coming into Croatia through the corn fields. Most of them want to move on toward Germany or the Scandinavian countries.

The migrants have turned to Croatia for a corridor to Western Europe after Hungary used force to push them away from its territory.

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8:30 a.m.

Croatian authorities say they have closed all border crossings with Serbia but one after straining to cope with 11,000 migrants and refugees who have entered the country after Hungary closed off its border.

Serbian officials, fearing that the closure would block thousands of migrants inside the country, protested Zagreb's move.

Aleksandar Vulin, Serbia's social affairs minister, said Serbia will take Croatia to international courts if the international border crossings remain closed.

Meanwhile, Slovenia has been returning migrants to Croatia and has stopped all rail traffic between the two countries.

Croatian authorities say the situation is worst in the eastern Croatian town of Beli Manastir, where thousands of refugees have converged and caught local authorities unprepared.

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8:15 a.m.

Activists say conditions at a refugee registration center in the southeast German city of Passau became untenable overnight.

A volunteer who has helped migrants arriving in the Bavarian city says more than 2,000 people were crammed into two large halls, with no medics or interpreters on site.

Dagmar Haase told The Associated Press on Friday that she and other volunteers spent the night at the site handing out food to migrants.

A spokesman for Germany's federal police, which run the site, says some 4,000 migrants came across the border from Austria on Thursday.

Thomas Schweikl says that while medics aren't on-site at all times, ambulances can be called when necessary. He wasn't immediately able to comment on the number of refugees at the site overnight.