The Latest: Hungary endorses referendum on EU migrant quotas

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Posted: Feb 29, 2016 4:08 PM
The Latest: Hungary endorses referendum on EU migrant quotas

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — The Latest on Europe's migration crisis (all times local):

11:05 p.m.

Hungary's national election board has endorsed a referendum question proposed by the government to reject a European Union quota plan for the resettlement of migrants and refugees.

The government says the referendum, unlikely to be held within less than four months, is needed because the EU is trying to make decisions which would diminish Hungary's sovereignty.

The question proposed for the referendum is whether Hungarians want the EU to settle non-Hungarians in the country without consent from Hungary's parliament.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government is adamantly opposed to taking in migrants and has sued the EU over its initial plan to redistribute 160,000 migrants from Greece and Italy.

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6:35 p.m.

Finnish police say they repatriated nearly 3,200 migrants last year whose asylum applications were rejected because they weren't entitled to stay in the country and that they expect the numbers to increase more than six-fold in 2016.

National Police Commissioner Seppo Kolehmainen said Monday that police would quicken the process of returning asylum-seekers by increasing personnel to deal with applications after the surge in migrant arrivals began last year. Earlier this month, Helsinki Police flew 103 Iraqi asylum-seekers to Baghdad on the first flight from Finland to Iraq since the influx.

Last year, almost 32,500 asylum-seekers arrived in Finland, a near tenfold increase over 2014. Officials have estimated that about two-thirds of them won't qualify for asylum in the Nordic country.

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3:05 p.m.

Greek authorities have suspended media access to all migrant registration and transit camps in the country, citing overcrowding in the facilities.

An immigration policy ministry announcement Monday said no permits would be issued for members of the media to visit mainland or island migrant facilities "until further notice."

The ministry said this is due to the large numbers of refugees and migrants at the packed facilities, most of which were only constructed earlier this month.

More than 117,000 migrants have reached Greece's eastern Aegean islands from Turkey so far this year — compared with 4,500 in January and February 2015. Nearly all head north for Macedonia and the Balkans, but only a few are allowed into Macedonia every day.

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3 p.m.

Italy's foreign minister is hailing the arrival by plane in Rome from Beirut of 93 Syrian refugees as a model for other countries to follow.

The refugees were living in Lebanon after fleeing their homeland's civil war and were granted humanitarian visas. Minister Paolo Gentiloni said transfer by plane involves limited numbers but sends a message to human traffickers profiting off risky sea voyages by desperate refugees trying to reach Europe.

Gentiloni said at Rome's main airport Monday that if other countries follow Italy's example, thousands of legitimate asylum-seekers could avoid "terrible sufferings" at the hands of traffickers.

Refugee Mirvat Sayegh said Italy is "better for us, it's safe." She lived three years in Lebanon after fleeing Aleppo, Syria.

Italian-based Catholic and Protestant churches launched the project.

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2 p.m.

Austria's deputy chancellor is pushing back against criticism from other EU nations over his country's introduction of caps on asylum-seekers.

Reinhold Mitterlehner says the "upper limits are necessary (and) we're going to maintain them."

He was referring Monday to the decision to accept no more than 80 requests for asylum a day at Austria's southern border with Slovenia from arriving migrants. The move has led to border slowdowns for migrants across the Balkans.

Mitterlehner says Austria continues to seek a solution to the migrant crisis that involves all 28 EU nations. But he told the Austria Press Agency that until that happens "we have to ... create limits."

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12:50 p.m.

Macedonian police have fired tear gas and stun grenades after a few hundred migrants angry at long delays in entering Macedonia broke a gate on the Greek-Macedonian border.

The protesters, who were chanting "Open the border!" and throwing stones at Macedonian police, were repelled. There were no reports of arrests or injuries from Monday's clashes.

Police said 500 people earlier pushed their way past Greek police to reach the gate used to let trains through at the border crossing.

About 6,500 people are stuck on the Greek side of the border. Some have been there for up to eight days with little food or shelter as Macedonia only accepts a trickle of people every day.

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11:55 a.m.

French authorities have begun dismantling the sprawling migrant camp in Calais where thousands are hanging out, hoping to make their way to a better life in Britain.

One by one, helmeted workers on Monday are pulling down makeshift structures where migrants sleep in the southern sector of the camp. The move comes after a court ruled that the shanties could be destroyed but not the common spaces that have also sprung up, like places of worship, schools and a library.

The camp has existed for years in the northern port city of Calais, which has ferries across the English Channel and the Eurotunnel rail to Britain. But now with an estimated 4,000 migrants in the slum, the situation in Calais has become a flashpoint for Europe's immigration crisis, fueling far-right sentiment on both sides of the Channel.

The uprooted migrants are being moved to a nearby camp.

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11:15 a.m.

Thousands of refugees are stuck on Greece's border with Macedonia, overflowing from a packed camp into the surrounding fields, as they wait for Macedonian authorities to let them continue their trek through the Balkans.

Police say about 6,500 people are at or near the Idomeni border crossing, with another 500 moved to a hastily erected camp on a small concrete landing strip some 20 kilometers (13 miles) away.

Macedonian authorities let 300 Syrians and Iraqis in between 11 p.m. local time Sunday and 4 a.m. Monday, after which the crossing closed. Macedonia has said it will only allow in as many people as Serbia, the next country north on the Balkan migrant corridor, accepts.

This has led to a huge bottleneck in Greece, where authorities say more than 22,000 people are stuck.