The Latest: Dutch FM calls for EU unity in migrants crisis

AP News
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Posted: Jan 15, 2016 12:57 PM
The Latest: Dutch FM calls for EU unity in migrants crisis

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The latest on the continuing flow of people into and across Europe. All times local:

6:55 p.m.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders is calling for the European Union to be united and work together to deal with the influx of refugees.

The Netherlands took over the rotating EU presidency in January and Koenders says reducing the number of refugees coming is a key goal and his country's presidency will be "extremely pragmatic and operational" to achieve it.

But his meeting with his Czech counterpart Lubomir Zaoralek in Prague on Friday has proved unity is hard to achieve.

Zaoralek again strictly dismissed a plan approved last year by the EU to redistribute 120,000 asylum-seekers among the bloc's 28 nations because "it doesn't move us forward."

Zaoralek says he is also speaking on behalf of Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, the countries that form an informal grouping known as the Visegrad Four.

Slovakia and Hungary are already legally challenging the redistribution system.

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4:25 p.m.

Greek authorities say a baby has been found dead after a boat full of migrants reached the small eastern Aegean Sea island of Farmakonissi, while 63 people were picked up alive.

The incident raises to four the number of deaths that Greek authorities recorded Friday, as migrants continue to make the short but dangerous sea crossing from nearby Turkey to Greece's Aegean islands despite the winter weather.

Earlier, three children drowned and 20 people were rescued when another boat carrying migrants foundered off the islet of Agathonissi.

Greece is the European Union's busiest entry point for asylum-seekers. About 850,000 people entered the country last year, nearly all by sea, many fleeing the war in Syria.

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3:05 p.m.

Italy is blocking a multi-billion euro fund for Syrian refugees in Turkey, insisting the money be paid entirely from European Union coffers rather than by member countries.

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said Friday after talks in Brussels that Italy had not lifted objections to the way the 3 billion euro ($3.3 billion) fund should be paid "but we hope that that is possible very, very soon."

The money is meant to encourage Turkey to stop migrants leaving its territory for Greece, as thousands continue to do daily.

Italy's Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said Rome supports Turkey's efforts to manage two million Syrian refugees on its soil but insisted the money should come from the EU budget.

The EU's executive Commission is offering to pay 500 million euros.

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3:00 p.m.

Swiss authorities are rejecting criticism over their practice of seizing cash from refugees, saying it's based on a decades-old law and only applies in a fraction of cases.

A widely cited report Thursday by Swiss public broadcaster SRF detailed how one Syrian had to give up more than half his family's money.

A spokeswoman for the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration said Friday the rule requiring asylum seekers to hand over cash worth more than 1,000 Swiss francs ($996) affected just 112 out of 45,000 refugees last year.

Lea Wertheimer says the funds — amounting to 210,000 Swiss francs last year — are needed to help cover refugees' upkeep, which can exceed 1,500 francs per person each month.

She says similar rules require Swiss citizens to repay welfare benefits when they're able to.

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11:45 a.m.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says the EU's reputation is being damaged worldwide for the failure of member countries to manage the refugee crisis.

Juncker on Friday called on nations to host more refugees arriving on Europe's shores, after more than one million migrants entered in 2015.

He said it is unacceptable "that certain member states say they are not going to accept refugees in their countries. That is not possible."

Juncker said Europe was known as a wealthy, admirable continent but that "now we do appear as being the weakest part, and the poorest part of the world."

He said he was embarrassed explaining Europe's migrant problems to leaders of countries like Jordan or Lebanon, which are hosting more than two million refugees.

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11:35 a.m.

Authorities in Greece say three children have died after the dinghy taking them from Turkey to the tiny Greek island of Agathonisi overturned in the Aegean.

The Coast guard said 20 people were rescued and the children's bodies were recovered.

The Malta-based relief agency Migrant Offshore Aid Station was involved in the rescue effort.

Greece is the European Union's busiest entry point for migrants and refugees entering the bloc, with a dramatic spike in the number of people fleeing the civil war in Syria last year.

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10: 35 a.m.

In the first case of its kind in Denmark, a court has fined a 41-year-old Dane for driving five migrants from northern Germany to Sweden, where they are believed to have sought asylum.

Prosecutor Tine Friis said Friday the unidentified man was fined 5,000 kroner ($730) for violating Danish immigration laws that forbids assisting foreigners to enter Denmark illegally.

Before the Randers City Court in western Denmark, he acknowledged picking up five Afghans in the German city of Flensburg, south of Denmark's border, and driving them in his car to a Sweden-bound ferry in the northern Danish port town of Grenaa.

He told the court he did it on Sept. 8 after seeing television pictures of migrants waiting to enter Denmark to reach neighboring Sweden after having crossed Europe.