The Latest: Merkel, German states agree on migrant deal

AP News
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Posted: Sep 24, 2015 4:52 PM
The Latest: Merkel, German states agree on migrant deal

BRUSSELS (AP) — The latest developments as European governments struggle to cope with the huge number of people moving across Europe. All times local:

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10:45 p.m.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany's 16 state governors have agreed on measures designed to streamline the country's handling of the migrant influx — including declaring three Balkan countries "safe" states of origin and cutting some cash payments to newcomers.

Merkel said Thursday that Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro will be declared safe countries as part of efforts to reduce the stream of people from those countries who have arrived. The agreement calls for "pocket money" paid to people at initial reception centers to be switched to benefits in kind.

The federal government is pledging to shoulder many of the financial risks of the influx, relieving state and municipal authorities. And the deal would enable making exceptions to cumbersome construction planning rules.

The package will take effect Nov. 1.

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6:15 p.m.

The head of the U.N. refugee agency says he is "disappointed" that a European Union plan to help those pouring into Europe failed to open more legal pathways for them to enter.

Antonio Guterres generally welcomed EU plans to relocate 120,000 refugees and boost humanitarian aid for the neighbors of war-torn Syria — the home of most of the refugees who have poured into Greece via Turkey in recent months.

Guterres said Thursday that more needs to be done to improve the facilities to take in, help, register and screen people now arriving by boat at an average rate of 5,000 a day.

His office called the EU program "limited" compared to current needs and urged a "substantial and rapid increase in legal opportunities for refugees to access the EU."

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6:05 p.m.

Hundreds of Syrian refugees who have waited more than a week at the border between Greece and Turkey in hopes of getting into the European Union are being returned to other areas in Turkey.

The movement was reported Thursday by Turkey's country's state-run Anadolu Agency. The failure to win admission into the EU is a disappointment for those who had gathered at the Turkish border city of Edirne since Sept. 15 in hopes of avoiding the dangerous sea crossing to Greece.

Some refugees had hoped Wednesday's meeting in Brussels would come up with a deal that would allow them into Greece or Bulgaria.

Anadolu said the refugees would be returned to the provinces where they registered.

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4:15 p.m.

About 500 migrants have been stranded at a Christian Orthodox cemetery in no man's land between Serbia and Croatia.

Croatian police on Thursday blocked their entry from Serbia near the Tovarnik border crossing, which has been one of the main entry points for migrants as they seek to continue their hazardous journey toward Western Europe.

The influx of mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans has caused tensions between Balkan rivals Serbia and Croatia, with countries criticizing each other over border closures and traffic blockades.

Croatia is blaming Serbia for busing migrants to the Croatian border, instead of channeling them further north toward Hungary.

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3:25 p.m.

Hungarian troops have started laying down spools of razor wire at a new border — this time, a crossing with Slovenia.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told The Associated Press on Thursday that the razor wire was being installed near a checkpoint between the Hungarian village of Tornyiszentmiklos and Pince, Slovenia.

State television showed soldiers in thick protective gloves installing the razor wire across hundreds of meters (yards) on the Slovenian border.

Kovacs called it a precautionary measure. But both Hungary and Slovenia are part of the European Union's Schengen zone of passport-free travel, so, theoretically at least, there's no need for border checks or fences between them.

Hungary has already built a 4-meter (13-feet) high fence on its border with Serbia and hopes to finish a similar barrier on the Croatian border shortly. Preparations are also underway to extend the fence along the Romanian border as well.

The fence has succeeded in stopping most migrants from entering Hungary from Serbia but over 10,000 entered Hungary from Croatia on Wednesday.

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2:55 p.m.

Croatian police say more than 51,000 migrants have entered the country since they first started arriving more than a week ago.

Police say 3,500 people crossed Thursday morning into Croatia from Serbia around Tovarnik, where migrants have been coming in through nearby cornfields.

The influx has caused tensions between the Balkan rivals, with countries slamming each other with border closures and traffic blockades. The migrants began entering Croatia after Hungary closed its border on Sept. 15.

Croatia says it's so overwhelmed that authorities have been shipping the migrants toward Hungary or Slovenia. Most want to travel on to wealthier nations in Western Europe such as Germany or Sweden.

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2:30 p.m.

Serbia's prime minister says Serbia "will not respond to the latest Croatian sanctions," which he called "maddening."

Serbia has banned imports of Croatian goods and Croatia has retaliated by barring vehicles with Serbian license plates from entering as relations between the two longtime Balkan rivals deteriorate over the huge influx of migrants over their border.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic says the financial losses will be big on both sides, and adds he thinks the sanctions won't last long. He says if they do, "we will have to replace some of the Croatian goods with ones from Serbia and other countries."

Serbian companies send a lot of goods to other European nations through Croatia.

Croatia for its part is angry that Serbia is busing migrants to its border rather than sending them north to Hungary. Nearly 45,000 have entered in the last week.

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12:20 p.m.

Norway's domestic intelligence agency says the influx of migrants has a consequence for the general threat assessment in the country, mainly in the potential for a backlash.

More than 2,800 people, mainly Syrians, have sought shelter in Norway so far in Norway in September.

Siv Alsen of the PST security police says there is a potential that left-wing groups rallying to support refugee-related cases and "can lead to counter-reactions and violent clashes" with right-wing extremists.

In Thursday's statement, Alsen said asylum-seekers linked to radical Islamism are "not a central concern" in the short term, adding the main threat comes primarily from people born or raised in Norway.

The country expects to receive up to 20,000 asylum-seekers this year, compared to 11,480 people in 2014.

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12:05 p.m.

French officials say a teenage migrant from east Africa was struck and killed by a freight train as he tried to make the dangerous crossing from northern France to Britain through the Channel Tunnel.

The Calais prefecture's office said the man's body was discovered around 2 a.m. Thursday by rescue workers near the tracks. Eurotunnel, which operates the freight service, also confirmed the death in the French terminal area.

About a dozen migrants have died since this summer in Calais, where they are camped in hopes of reaching a better life in Britain. Britain and France have reinforced security at the entrance of the Tunnel linking the two countries after a series of attempts to rush the site en masse.

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11:10 a.m.

More than 10,000 refugees and other migrants have entered Hungary in a single day, the highest figure this year, as Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he was willing to consider letting people through to Western Europe.

Police said Thursday that 10,046 people arrived in Hungary the day before, surpassing the previous mark of 9,380 set Sept. 14, just before Hungary closed down its border with Serbia.

While nearly all the migrants are now taking a detour and entering from Croatia, Hungary is also building a fence on that border which Orban said would be ready by the weekend.

Early Thursday, however, after a meeting of EU national leaders in Brussels, Orban said Hungary would consider giving the migrants free passage toward Austria and Germany, where many want to go.

Orban cited Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, who "clearly said that if we can only stop them with the fence, then we should rather let them through. This is what must be considered."

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9:05 a.m.

The governors of Germany's 16 states are in Berlin to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel for talks on how to manage the influx of migrants to the country.

Over the past year Germany has received hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and others fleeing war and poverty.

But the huge number of people needing food and shelter has strained even the resources of Europe's biggest economy.

The meeting Thursday in Berlin is aimed at improving cooperation between national and local authorities, and speeding up the bureaucratic process of asylum claims.

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8:55 a.m.

Serbia has banned imports of Croatian goods and Croatia has retaliated by barring vehicles with Serbian license plates from entering the country as relations between the two Balkan neighbors deteriorated over the influx of migrants over their border.

Serbia had given Croatia an ultimatum to reopen its border for all cargo transport by midnight, which Croatia has been blocking since last week.

Croatia's police said Serbian nationals were not let into Croatia early Thursday because of "a problem" with the border information site.

Croatia shut all but one of its crossings with Serbia to block the migrant surge, which reached nearly 45,000 in a week. Croatia is angry that Serbia is busing migrants to its border, rather than sending them north to Hungary.

Croatia's action has crippled the economy in Serbia, a conduit for cargo across Croatia to western and central Europe.

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8:40 a.m.

Romania's president says his country will give 300,000 euros ($336,000) in the next three years to the World Food Program to help relief agencies offer food and shelter to people fleeing conflicts.

President Klaus Iohannis spoke early Thursday after an emergency European Union summit to discuss ways of tackling the migration crisis. At the meeting leaders agreed to give an extra 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) to the United Nations refugee agency and World Food program to help refugees.