The Latest: Hungary shuts Croatian border to migrant flow

AP News
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Posted: Oct 16, 2015 6:54 PM
The Latest: Hungary shuts Croatian border to migrant flow

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The latest news as migrants fleeing war or seeking a better life make their way across Europe by the tens of thousands. All times local.

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12:30 a.m.

The Hungarian government says it has shut down its border with Croatia to the free flow of migrants "to protect the citizens of Hungary and Europe."

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said early Saturday in the border village of Zakany that several hundred migrants who reached the border minutes before midnight (2200GMT) would still be allowed to enter Hungary for humanitarian reasons.

Hungary has built a razor-wire fence on the border with Croatia, mirroring a similar barrier finished last month on its border with Serbia. Both fences are meant to prevent migrants from freely entering the country while trying to reach Germany and other destinations in the European Union.

Croatia said it would begin taking migrants to its border with neighboring Slovenia to circumvent Hungary, from where they could continue their journey west.

More than 383,000 migrants have entered Hungary in 2015.

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10:50 p.m.

Slovenia has suspended regular train traffic with Croatia in anticipation of the influx of migrants wishing to reach western Europe.

The flow of people is expected to shift to Slovenia when Hungary closes its border with Croatia for migrants at midnight Friday (2200GMT.)

Slovenia has said it will accept the arrivals, but wants to control the influx. Officials say additional police have been sent to the border with Croatia to manage the flow.

Slovenia's railway said Friday it has prepared trains to transport the migrants to the refugee centers prepared for them. Most of them are expected to move on to Austria and Germany.

More than 180,000 people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa or Asia have passed through Croatia since mid-September.

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10:30 p.m.

Croatian officials say they will start sending migrants to the border with Slovenia after Hungary closes its border for migrants wishing to reach western Europe.

Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic said Friday Croatia will coordinate the migrant flow with Slovenia, which has said it wants to control the number of migrants entering the small Alpine nation.

Pusic says about 5,000 migrants on average have entered Croatia daily since mid-September. She adds that "we have succeeded in taking care of these people, but we expect the European Union to stop the wave at the Greek border."

Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic says Croatia will be transporting migrants in trains and buses to three crossings with Slovenia.

Hungary is closing down its border with Croatia to the free flow of migrants beginning at midnight Friday (2200 GMT).

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7 p.m.

Slovenia is beefing up its border controls and will create entry points for refugees to manage the influx after Hungary closes its border with Croatia and thousands turn toward the small Alpine nation.

Officials said Friday they are sending enhanced police units to the border. They say Slovenia will keep accepting refugees as long as neighboring Austria and Germany keep their borders open.

Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkos Znidar says "we want to have a controlled number of refugees arriving."

Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec says "our main objective is to provide for security and order in republic of Slovenia and make sure migrants who arrive are received properly." He says the national security council will meet Saturday.

Hungary is closing down its border with Croatia to the free flow of migrants beginning at midnight Friday (2200 GMT).

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5:20 p.m.

Europe's migration commissioner says Greece has overcome earlier delays in handling refugees while Luxembourg's foreign minister says more asylum-seekers have to apply in the first EU nation they arrive in, most often Greece.

EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn and Greek migration minister Ioannis Mouzalas spoke Friday after visiting the island of Lesbos, the main point of entry into the European Union for hundreds of thousands fleeing war and poverty.

Mouzalas said Lesbos now had a "hotspot" center where newcomers who can be awarded refugee status are identified. Another four hotspots are to be opened on the Greek islands of Kos, Chios, Leros and Samos by early December.

Both Avramopoulos and Asselborn stressed that refugees are obliged to adhere to EU regulations that say they must apply for asylum upon arrival. So far many have refused to apply in financially-strapped Greece.

Asselborn says "it's not acceptable that only a very small percentage of those who are received in a dignified manner in Greece request refugee status in Greece."

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4:20 p.m.

Hungary says it will close down its border with Croatia, where it has built a razor-wire fence, to the free flow of migrants, from midnight Friday (2200 GMT).

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Friday afternoon after a meeting of the national security Cabinet that "the Hungarian-Croatian green border will be closed from midnight."

Hungary clamped down on its border with Serbia with a similar barrier on Sept. 15. Since then, migrants have been taking a detour through Croatia to reach Hungary.

More than 383,000 migrants have entered Hungary this year, nearly all passing through on their way to Germany and other destinations further west in the EU.

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2:10 p.m.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says his government is raising the maximum sentence for convicted people-smugglers from four years to six years imprisonment.

Rutte announced the plan after his Cabinet's weekly meeting, saying he would introduce fast-track legislation so that the tougher penalties can come into force Jan. 1.

He says "the aim is to better tackle the inhumane activities of these criminals."

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2:00 p.m.

Poland's prime minister says she will send border guards and equipment to help Hungary seal its border with Serbia where thousands of migrants are passing.

Ewa Kopacz said Friday that five vehicles with night vision equipment, several other cars and some 70 Border Guard officers will be sent. They will be patrolling the stretches of the border away from the guarded crossings. She gave no timing for the mission.

The decision was taken at Thursday's meeting in Brussels of the Visegrad Group, the leaders of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Prague and Bratislava will also contribute assistance, Kopacz said.

Poland will also send another 40 officers for the mission of Europe's border agency Frontex, in addition to 40 officers and a plane already made available.

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12:20 p.m.

Swedish prosecutors have indicted an Eritrean asylum-seeker on two counts of murder for the stabbing deaths of a 55-year-old woman and her 27-year-old son at an Ikea furniture store in August.

Just before the attacks, the man had learned that his application for asylum was rejected.

Prosecutors said the man used kitchen knives from the store in Vasteras, central Sweden, to stab the two victims. He then slashed himself in the stomach.

Chief prosecutor Eva Moren told reporters that the man had confessed to the Aug. 10 attacks, saying he had been thinking about killing someone or himself if he wasn't allowed to stay in Sweden. She didn't identify him, in line with Swedish custom.

Moren said he chose the victims randomly. His lawyer didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

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12:05 p.m.

Authorities in Greece are investigating a series of allegations that Syrian refugees who entered the country by land from Turkey were robbed and forced back across the border by Greek police.

A judicial official said Friday that Thessaloniki prosecutor Lefteris Michailidis has ordered the police internal affairs squad to investigate more than 20 complaints forwarded by human rights groups. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

The refugees claimed the attacks took place earlier this year in the northeastern Evros region, where Greece and Turkey are separated by a river that can be easily crossed in the summer. They said Greek police stole their money and belongings before pushing them back across the river.

Greece is the main gateway for people from the Middle East and Africa seeking a better life in Europe. Most enter by sea.

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11:20 a.m.

A Spanish court has ruled that 16 police officers had done nothing wrong to contribute to the drowning of 15 migrants as they tried to swim from Morocco to the Spanish North African enclave of Ceuta last year.

In a ruling released Friday, the Ceuta court said nothing indicated the Civil Guard officers acted incorrectly.

Rights groups blamed the drownings on the officers' use of rubber bullets and smoke canisters.

Interior Ministry videos showed police firing rubber bullets as the migrants swam toward Ceuta's shore on Feb. 6, 2014, but officials denied the action contributed to the drowning.

Ceuta is one of two Spanish enclaves surrounded by Morocco and the Mediterranean Sea.

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11:05 a.m.

Slovenia's prime minister has warned of a "domino effect" if Hungary closes its border with Croatia to stop the flow of migrants trying to reach Western Europe.

Miro Cerar is quoted as saying late Thursday in Brussels "there is a realistic possibility" that Hungary will seal the Croatian border where it has already put up a fence. Cerar says migrants then likely would turn to Slovenia and the country is preparing for such a possibility.

But Cerar also warns that "if borders north of us would start getting closed or much tighter controls were applied, Slovenia will act reciprocally in the same way," according to the official STA news agency.

He adds "we cannot let an unchecked number of refugees or migrants flood Slovenia."

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10:55 a.m.

Croatia's prime minister says the country has prepared for the possibility that Hungary will close its border to stop the flow of migrants trying to reach Western Europe.

Zoran Milanovic said late Thursday in Brussels that "Croatia has a solution, Hungary can do whatever it wants." He adds "we have a plan for Croatia to remain safe and without any problems for our citizens."

Milanovic has not said what Croatia would do, but says: "Croatia can always also build a fence, but we don't want that, it's the last option."

More than 180,000 migrants have passed through the country since mid-September. Hungary has put up fences to stop the migrant influx. It has sealed the border with Serbia and will decide Friday whether to do the same with Croatia.

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10:50 a.m.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says the country's national security cabinet on Friday afternoon will discuss the possible closure of the border with Croatia at all but official crossing points, after his return from Brussels where EU leaders have been discussing ways to stem the flow of migrants.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacz says the police are prepared to enforce any decision immediately.

Hungary has built a fence along most of its border with the fellow EU member Croatia after completing a similar barrier toward Serbia last month. That barrier has diverted the flow toward Croatia, from where thousands cross into Hungary daily. More than 380,000 migrants have entered Hungary this year alone, though the vast majority of them have moved on toward the rest of the EU.

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10:25 a.m.

Boris Cheshirkov, the Bulgarian representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, says some 3,100 migrants have died this year while attempting to reach the European Union, but the incident at the Bulgarian-Turkish border on Thursday was the first case of a fatal shooting on the borders of the EU.

"We are deeply shocked and regret the fatal incident," Cheshirkov said. "We are convinced that barriers, fences and police forces cannot solve the problems of people who are in a desperate situation."

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9:50 a.m.

Bulgarian authorities say a man from Afghanistan has been shot dead near the border with Turkey after being hit by a ricochet from a warning shot fired by border police.

Interior Ministry chief of staff Georgi Kostov said that the incident occurred around 10 p.m. on Thursday near the southern city of Sredets.

"A group of 54 people, aged between 20 and 30 - all from Afghanistan - was intercepted by a patrol of two border guards and a police officer after crossing into Bulgarian territory," Kostov told reporters Friday morning.

"One of my colleagues used his personal weapon and fired," Kostov said. As a result of a ricochet, he said, one of the group was injured and later died from his wounds.

The other migrants were detained and taken into custody while an investigation into the case was launched. The men claimed they were from Afghanistan but carried no identification documents.

On learning of the case, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov left the meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels and returned to Bulgaria

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This corrects an earlier story to say that the 3,100 deaths mentioned by Bulgarian diplomat Boris Cheshirkov were all this year