The Latest: French court hands down sentences to migrants

AP News
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Posted: Feb 22, 2016 3:04 PM
The Latest: French court hands down sentences to migrants

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Latest on the migrant crisis in Europe (all times local):

7:55 p.m.

A court in northern France has sentenced six migrants to one month in prison and slapped 300-euro fines ($330) to two activists over an intrusion onto a British ferry in the port of Calais last month.

But since the six migrants — four Afghans, one Syrian and one Sudanese — have been in prison for a month awaiting their trial, they were freed Monday, prosecutor Jean-Pierre Valensi told The Associated Press by phone after the trial in Boulogne-Sur-Mer.

The six were arrested on Jan. 23 when between 150 and 300 people made their way to the fenced port site in Calais when a demonstration by migrants and activists was ending. A few dozen managed to get on a docked ferry before being escorted off by police.

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3:20 p.m.

Croatia's interior minister says the main route for migrants entering Europe will be shut the moment Austria and Germany decide to stop taking them in.

Vlaho Orepic said Monday "the moment migrants can no longer be accepted particularly in Austria, we have to stop reception and transit" of the people crossing Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia on their way to western Europe.

Austria has triggered a backlog of migrants along the Balkan route after last week setting a cap on the rate at which it would accept them. More than a million people fleeing wars and poverty reached Europe in 2015.

Nations along the Balkan route on Monday started joint controls of the flow through their territories.

Orepic says the migrants will be "carefully profiled" on the Macedonian border with Greece before they are allowed to proceed.

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2:20 p.m.

More than 500 people were caught trying to enter Hungary last weekend, the highest figure since the construction last year of fences on the borders with Serbia and Croatia meant to stop the flow of migrants reaching the country.

According to police statistics, 501 people were caught between Friday and Sunday, including 237 on Sunday, the highest one-day figure so far in 2016.

Hungarian police caught 598 migrants in January, but more than 1,550 have been caught so far this month.

The breaches of Hungary's fence protected by razor wire have increased as other countries along the migrant route through the Balkans have tightened controls and set limits on the number and nationalities of migrants and refugees they will allow to enter.

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1:35 p.m.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi says he understands Austria's "very difficult situation after so many asylum-seekers poured into the small country, but Vienna would be "absolutely wrong" if it shuts down the Brenner crossing-point.

Renzi said Monday that closing the Brenner would "strike at the heart the very idea of integration in Europe." Austria announced last week it plans to extend border controls to Italy as it braces for possible shifts in migrant flows. Checkpoints were being set up, including one at the Brenner crossing, Italy's major entrance across the Alps into Austria.

Renzi says a "principle of barriers and quotas" was unacceptable. He insisted there can't be a cap on numbers of those seeking asylum.

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1:30 p.m.

The European Union's police organization has launched a new unit dedicated to tackling migrant smuggling as part of the 28-nation bloc's efforts to stem the flow of people pouring into the continent as they flee conflict and poverty.

Europol Director Rob Wainwright said Monday his organization estimates that nine out of every 10 asylum-seekers arriving in Europe have their travel facilitated by a criminal smuggling network.

He says the new center at Europol's headquarters in The Hague will help EU member states "improve their exchange of information and operational coordination in the fight against organized migrant smuggling."

According to a Europol report, criminal networks involved in people smuggling had an estimated turnover last year of 3-6 billion euros ($3.3-6.6 billion), as more than 1 million migrants arrived last year.

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12:40 p.m.

Greece's government warned Monday it expected a growing number of stranded migrants and asylum seekers after neighbor Macedonia further restricted border access at the weekend.

Ioannis Mouzalas, a deputy minister for migration said the European Union was failing to deal with unilateral actions and an "outburst of scare-mongering" from individual member states.

Macedonia imposed the restrictions at the weekend after Austria imposed a cap on transit and asylum applications.

The action — blocking Afghans from crossing the border and generally restricting access — from left thousands of migrants stranded in Greece, at the border and the port of Piraeus, near Athens, where regular private services to the border were suspended.

Nearly 100,000 migrants and refugees have traveled to Greek islands from nearby Turkey so far this year.

Police said about 2,000 people were stranded at the border camps near the Greek border town of Idomeni, including some 600 Afghans who staged a peaceful protest, holding up Afghan flags and hand-written banners.

Among them was 25-year-old Shafiulahh Qaberi who traveled to Greece from the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.

"We've been here for three days, and no one knows why they have closed the border," he told the AP. "I don't need food and I don't need water. What I need is to get over the border. Why are they stopping us?"

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