The Latest: Greece seeks 'major' border patrol boost

AP News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2016 4:34 PM
The Latest: Greece seeks 'major' border patrol boost

PARIS (AP) — The Latest on the flow of refugees and other migrants into Europe (all times local):

9:30 p.m.

Greece says it will seek a "major enhancement" of international assistance to patrol its sea border with Turkey during a highly anticipated European leaders' summit next week on the migration crisis.

In a statement signed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the leaders of three opposition parties, the government said it would also press for faster implementation of relocation plans for asylum seekers across European Union countries.

In the note, the leaders said Greece is "seeking not only to cooperate with (the EU border protection agency) Frontex" but also seeking its "major enhancement toward its transformation into the European Coast Guard."

Tsipras met with opposition party leaders for several hours Friday, but failed to reach a broader agreement, as the conservative leader argued Greece needed to create more detention centers for migrants instead of open camps.

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3:35 p.m.

A Serbian court has sentenced a human trafficker to four and a half years in prison for smuggling some 200 migrants over the border from Macedonia last year.

The Organized Crime Court ruled Friday that Rade Sivcev was guilty of "illegal crossing of the state border and human smuggling" between August to December last year. The migrants included Palestinians, Syrians and Pakistanis who sought to reach Hungary, which is a member of the 28-country European Union. Serbia is not.

Human smuggling has flourished in Serbia since the country became part of the so-called Balkan migrant corridor for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Migrants are often transported in overcrowded vans or crammed in cargo trucks. Many get robbed or double-crossed by ruthless smugglers.

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3:30 p.m.

Hungary's prime minister says the European Union should not give up its power to "exclusively" protect its external borders even if an agreement is reached with Turkey next week on stemming the flow of migrants into the region.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Friday that "zero immigration is optimal" for Hungary, which has filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice against the quota plan to redistribute migrants from Italy and Greece.

Orban spoke after a meeting with Horst Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union, the smallest party in Germany's governing coalition, and one of the most prominent domestic critics of Chancellor Angela Merkel's policies on migrants.

While Seehofer said he supported Orban's position of tightening national border controls as long as so many migrants were at the EU's external borders, both leaders said their meeting was not an effort to weaken Merkel or her government.

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3:05 p.m.

A Slovenian archaeologist says three statuettes dating back nearly 5,000 years from the Sumerian civilization and found in a refugee camp last year have been temporarily placed in the care of the country's national museum.

Curator Peter Turk said Friday that the Oscar-sized alabaster statuettes date back to the Sumerian civilization which inhabited present-day Syria and Iraq.

He says "if a museum from Syria or Iraq report they own the statuettes, they will be returned."

The statuettes were found last November in a transit migrant camp that has hosted hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Turk says the statuettes, depicting two males and a female goddess, have their hands clasped in prayer, suggesting they had been originally placed in a sanctuary to impersonate their owners in prayer.

Turk says he has no doubt about the authenticity.

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2:40 p.m.

Sweden's prime minister says the European Union must get on top of the influx of refugees or it could put EU cooperation "at risk."

Stefan Lofven says member states in Europe's passport-free Schengen area must work together and "secure their borders" or face consequences. Sweden temporarily reintroduced ID checks at its border on Jan. 4.

Lofven described a meeting of the Swedish parliament's EU committee on Friday that the current situation whereby hundreds of thousands of people are entering Europe as "a humanitarian disaster."

Sweden has accepted the highest number of migrants per capita in Europe.

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2:25 p.m.

Croatia's government has proposed to Parliament to amend a law that would allow the army to be deployed to the country's borders to tackle the migration crisis.

Croatia's Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic said Friday the measure would not mean that the army would be deployed "tomorrow, but would leave the possibility open."

He says Croatia's neighbor Slovenia has already deployed its army to the border, while Serbia is considering the option.

The Balkan countries and Austria have recently introduced tight restrictions to stem the flow of migrants. That has resulted in thousands of refugees and other migrants being stranded in Greece on the border with Macedonia.

According to the proposed amendment, Croatia's army would help the police in patrolling the borders.

Opposition parties denounced the government's plans, saying the deployment of the army would raise tensions among Balkan countries that are still reeling from the wars in the 1990s.

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1:30 p.m.

The European Union has kicked off the distribution of the promised 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in aid for refugees in Turkey, formally pledging 95 million euros for educational and food assistance.

Days ahead of Monday's EU summit with Turkey, the European Commission said it has pledged 55 million euros ($60 million) to give Syrian children fleeing violence proper schooling in refugee camps. The Commission said the funds would help put 110,000 Syrian children in school.

The Commission said that an additional 40 million euros ($44 million) will be provided through the World Food Program to seek to help feed some 735,000 Syrian refugees.

The EU aid plan aims to provide 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in aid over the next two years to refugees who are now sheltered in Turkey.

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1:15 p.m.

The German government says it has offered to help Greece cope with migrants camped at its borders but points out Athens hasn't yet requested assistance.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry says Germany's disaster response agency THW stands ready to assist with water preparation and provide technical and logistical support for camp construction.

Asked by reporters in Berlin on Friday why Germany had so far only provided limited assistance to Greece, spokesman Johannes Dimroth said that "it's not the case that we're not prepared to help."

He added that "on the contrary the available services and resources ... have been offered and need to be requested by the Greek side. That hasn't happened yet."

Government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said EU leaders would discuss the "dramatic situation in Greece" in Brussels on Monday.

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1:10 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it's counterproductive for European countries to implement individual measures in response to the migrant crisis.

She says border slowdowns and closures have just meant that migrants are now piling up in Greece, overwhelming the country's resources.

Merkel is pushing for a European solution, and said Friday while meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Paris that "unilateral solutions do not help us."

She said Europe needs to work closely with Turkey to stop the flow of migrants, and also to secure its outer borders so that it knows who is entering, and that movement within Europe is not restricted.

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12:35 p.m.

The European Union's head office estimates that the cost of fully restoring border controls between EU member states would be as high as 18 billion euros ($20 billion) a year.

As temporary controls between several member states are reimposed to deal with the migrant crisis, the fear of the full collapse of the borderless Schengen zone through most of the EU has increased over the past month.

The European Commission said Friday that the cost could amount to 0.13 percent of Gross Domestic Product. It estimated that cost for road transport alone could go as high as 7.5 billion euros ($8.2 billion) annually, hitting countries with major exports especially hard.

In a planning document on how to fully restore the Schengen zone by December at the latest, the Commission said that beyond trade, the re-imposition of borders "would also risk putting in jeopardy the judicial and police cooperation."

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12:30 p.m.

More than 1.2 million people applied for asylum for the first time in the European Union last year, more than double the number in 2014.

The EU's statistics agency said Friday that most people applying in the 28 EU countries were Syrian, Iraqi or Afghan nationals. It said 362,800 Syrians applied for asylum.

More than a third — 441,800 people — applied for the first time in Germany. In per-capita terms, the most people applied in Hungary, Sweden, Austria and Finland.

Only 140 people sought asylum in Croatia.

Eurostat's figures concern only first-time applicants in 2015. Almost half a million asylum applications were still being processed at the end of 2014.

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12 noon.

The United Nations refugee agency says that 400,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey should be resettled around the world to help ease the burden on the country.

UNHCR Europe bureau director Vincent Cochetel said Friday that the refugees could be distributed from Turkey over the next two years, and he called on Europe, Russia and the United States to do more.

More than 2 million refugees, most of them Syrians, are currently on Turkish soil.

Cochetel said that only 7,500 refugees were resettled from Turkey last year, including 1,100 Syrians.

His call comes as the European Union seeks to send more migrants arriving in Greece back to Turkey.

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11:55 a.m.

Swedish police say a male asylum-seeker has been stabbed to death at a refugee center in central Sweden, adding three suspects, also asylum-seekers, have been detained.

Police spokesman Stefan Wickberg says they had no immediate motive for Friday's pre-dawn stabbing at an asylum center north of Lindesberg about 200 kilometers (124 miles) west of Stockholm.

Wickberg said the victim who was fatally stabbed in the neck, was in his 40s while the suspects were younger. He could not immediately give their citizenships.

Since the start of the year, at least three people have been murdered in asylum centers in Sweden, which has accepted the highest number of migrants per capita in Europe. The events are not believed to be related.

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11:35 a.m.

A tiny trickle of Syrian and Iraqi refugees is being admitted into Macedonia at the Idomeni crossing on the border with Greece, as more than 11,000 remain camped around waiting for their turn.

Greek police say Macedonian authorities let in 320 people in the 24 hours to 6 a.m. Friday. A few dozen were being admitted later in the day.

Hundreds of brightly-colored tents cover the muddy ground around an overflowing official camp at Idomeni, stretching almost right up to the border.

Syrian Saswat Estif, 26, has been there for 15 days, waiting patiently as others jumped the queue to enter Macedonia.

He says "last night was cold and it rained a lot," adding that "there's not enough food."

In Athens, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was briefing opposition leaders on the immigration crisis that has left more than 32,000 people stranded in Greece.

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11:20 a.m.

The United Nations refugee agency has criticized European Union leaders for warning migrants not to come to Europe when most people arriving are from conflict zones rather than looking for work.

UNHCR Europe bureau director Vincent Cochetel said Friday that "the inconvenient truth is that refugees are still coming to Europe because there are wars in the neighborhood of Europe."

He told reporters in Brussels that "91 percent of the people arriving in Greece are coming from those three major crises," in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. He said almost half were Syrians.

On Thursday EU Council President Donald Tusk warned "all potential illegal economic migrants, wherever you are from: Do not come to Europe."

People fleeing conflict have the right to apply for asylum under international law.

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11:15 a.m.

France's top security official says the population of the sprawling Calais migrant camp is now at 3,800 people, down from a peak last year of 6,000, after and the inhabitants were relocated and many of the shanties later dismantled.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told BFM television on Friday that France has set up 102 shelters across the country for migrants, and blamed a handful of extremists for inciting them to protests that have included some who stitched their lips together.

The migrants converge in Calais in hopes of slipping across the Channel to Britain. The shantytown has become a flashpoint in relations between France and Britain and has fed far-right backlashes in both countries.