The Latest: Macedonia closes border to refugees

AP News
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Posted: Jan 27, 2016 1:17 PM
The Latest: Macedonia closes border to refugees

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The Latest on the continuing influx of asylum-seekers and migrants in Europe: All times local:

8:15 p.m.

Greek authorities say neighboring Macedonia has stopped letting in refugees heading north to central Europe, leaving about 2,600 people stranded on the Greek side of the border.

Macedonian police stopped letting refugees through on Wednesday afternoon, but the reason was not clear and authorities were not available for comment. The country took similar action for two days last week.

After a five-month free-for-all that ended in November, Macedonia started to only allow in migrants whom it deems to be bona fide refugees — Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan nationals. All others are considered economic migrants and left trapped in Greece, where they are told to seek asylum, agree to voluntary repatriation or be deported.

Macedonia later limited transit to refugees whose stated country of destination is Austria or Germany.

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7:55 p.m.

Greece says a European Union investigation that found major flaws in its border management is outdated and that the situation with migrant screening and registering has become much better.

Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili said Wednesday that it is "not constructive to try to create a mood isolating Greece" based on an assessment from Nov. 10, when conditions were very different.

The EU report could pave the way for other member states to isolate Athens and introduce long-term ID checks to restrict migrants from entering further into the continent.

Gerovassili said Greece is doing its best but has received only partial response to its appeal for greater EU help in registering migrants, while an EU agreement to relocate 160,000 refugees from the country has only been implemented for 414 people so far.

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7:25 p.m.

A German court official says a Moroccan and a Tunisian have been charged over a theft on New Year's Eve in Cologne, the first indictments related to assaults blamed largely on foreigners that caused public uproar.

Cologne administrative court spokeswoman Sonja Heidel said the two men, who weren't identified, were charged over the alleged theft from a man of a bag containing a camera near the city's main station, news agency dpa reported. She said the men are in custody and could go on trial in February.

The unease caused by the New Year's Eve events has centered on reported sexual assaults on women. Almost 1,000 criminal complaints have been filed, more than half alleging sexual assaults. Authorities have identified 35 suspects, of whom 32 are from North Africa.

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4:45 p.m.

Berlin police say they're investigating reports that a 24-year-old Syrian refugee died after waiting for days in the cold at the city's central registration point for asylum-seekers.

However, police spokesman Stefan Petersen said Wednesday that so far authorities hadn't even been able to locate a body to examine.

Police began looking into the matter after activists wrote a post on social media that said a Syrian man died of cardiac arrest after suffering from a high fever, accusing the city of negligence.

Berlin's central registration point for asylum-seekers has been criticized for months for its chaotic and slow procedures of helping refugees getting registered or paying out financial support. Critics have also repeatedly pointed out that refugees had to wait in the cold, because not enough indoor waiting rooms were provided.

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3:25 p.m.

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei is withdrawing his works from two museums in Denmark to protest a new law that allows Danish authorities to seize valuables from migrants.

Ai announced on social media Wednesday that he no longer wanted to have his works on display at the Aros museum in Aarhus and the Faurschou Foundation in Copenhagen.

Curator Jennie Haagemann told AP that Ai called the owner of the Faurschou Foundation to inform him of his decision.

Aros museum officials said they didn't know anything beyond what Ai had posted on Twitter and Instagram.

Museum director Erlend Hoeyersten said he has "great respect" for Ai's criticism of Danish immigration policies, "but I also find it unreasonable that an entire people is punished for the government's policies."

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3:05 p.m.

A European Union investigation has found major flaws in Greece's management of its borders due to the migrant influx, which could pave the way for its EU partners to introduce long-term ID checks.

The findings of the investigation by surprise inspection teams in Greece and its Aegean Sea islands in November and December was made public in a report Wednesday. The EU's top migration official, Dimitris Avramopoulos, says their "report shows that there are serious deficiencies in the management of the external border in Greece."

If the EU's executive Commission rules that Greece has demonstrated "serious deficiencies in the carrying out of external border control," some EU partners could maintain tight border controls for up to two years.

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2:35 p.m.

Greece's migration minister says his country is seeking European Union backing for the swift deportation of migrants not considered eligible for asylum from Greek islands back to Turkey.

Ioannis Mouzalas told Skai television Wednesday that EU-supervised screening centers being set up on the Greeks islands could be used to send back ineligible migrants on chartered boats to Turkey "the next morning."

Mouzalas conceded the government was experiencing delays with setting up the island screening centers — known as hotspots — but said Athens is seeking additional assistance with the project.

Over a million migrants and refugees reached the European Union last year, with more than 80 percent of them traveling to the Greek islands facing the coast of Turkey.

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12:20 p.m.

The German Cabinet has approved measures meant to make it easier to deport foreign criminals — a package that ministers drew up amid outrage over New Year's Eve assaults in Cologne.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the measures approved Wednesday, which must still be passed by Parliament, are also in the interest of hundreds of thousands of migrants in Germany. He said that "they do not deserve to be lumped together with criminals."

The changes mean that even a suspended prison sentence would be grounds for deportation if someone is found guilty of certain crimes. These include homicide, bodily harm, sexual assault, violent theft and serial shoplifting. Youth sentences would be covered too.

The Cologne assaults have been blamed largely on foreigners, heightening tension over Germany's migrant influx.

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11:50 a.m.

Greek authorities say a total of seven bodies, including those of two children, have been recovered from the sea off the eastern Aegean island of Kos after a boat carrying migrants or refugees sank early Wednesday.

Rescue crews recovered the bodies of three men, two women, a boy and a girl. There were two survivors — a man and a woman.

A search and rescue operation in the area by vessels from the Greek coast guard and the European border patrol agency Frontex, a helicopter and Greek rescue volunteers was called off after all on board the boat were accounted for.