The Latest: UN chief 'horrified' by latest refugee deaths

AP News
|
Posted: Aug 28, 2015 4:02 PM
The Latest: UN chief 'horrified' by latest refugee deaths

GENEVA (AP) — Here are the latest developments Friday regarding the tens of thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe.

___

10 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is "horrified and heartbroken" by the latest deaths in Austria and at sea.

In a rare statement issued under his name and not a spokesman, he stresses that a "large majority" of people undertaking such dangerous journeys are refugees who have the right to protection and asylum.

He calls on all governments to act with compassion and humanity.

Ban also says the conflicts and repression that force people to flee must be resolved. "The Syrian war, for example, has just been manifested on a roadside in the heart of Europe," he says.

He plans a "special meeting devoted to these global concerns" on Sept. 30, during the annual General Assembly of world leaders at U.N. headquarters.

___

6:50 p.m.

According to new figures by the International Organization for Migration, over 332,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea this year to reach Europe.

That number includes over 218,000 who landed in Greece and over 111,600 who reached Italian shores, the intergovernmental agency said Friday.

At least 2,636 people have died in the attempt, it said.

___

6:40 p.m.

A migration agency says in the last day, more than 480 migrants have been brought to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.

The International Organization for Migration says the bodies of two Nigerian women were also brought to the island. They had suffocated in a smuggler's boat, stunned first by engine fumes, then crushed by other refugees, it said.

___

5:50 p.m.

The trip from Turkey to Greece's eastern islands is one of the shortest, safest trips by sea to Europe — but it still can be terrifying for migrants making the crossing in the pitch dark.

Nour Kady, a 30-year-old Syrian, said Friday he had paid $2,200 to Turkish smugglers for the two-hour journey to the Greek island of Lesbos by boat for himself, his wife and their 1-year-old son.

He called the trip harrowing, with 60 people crammed into a 9-meter (29-foot) boat. He says "we set out at 2 a.m., the sea was rough, there were big waves."

So far this year, 200,000 migrants have entered Greece, according to new figures Friday from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Another 110,000 have reached Italy.

___

5:20 p.m.

A Libyan navy spokesman in Tripoli says his militia-backed government simply doesn't have the ships or equipment to handle the surge of migrants using the lawless Libyan coast as a transit point for Europe.

At least 105 migrants have died in the last two days as two overcrowded smugglers' boats capsized off Libya — and U.N. authorities fear at least 100 other migrants are missing in the disaster. 

Navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem says "the coast guard's capabilities are very weak and that's what contributes to the rise in migration."

His government has been fighting a separate internationally recognized Libyan government in the east, a chaotic split that has made Libya an easy place for smugglers to operate.

The passport police chief for the western coastal city of Zuwara, Anwar Abu el-Deeb, says his department can't even estimate how many smugglers' boats leave the city every day, heading to Italy.

___

4:55 p.m.

Exhausted and thirsty in the hot sun, hundreds of migrants who have finally reached Hungary from Serbia are demanding that Hungarian authorities speed up the registration process.

Hungarian police were directing migrants Friday to a gathering point outside Roszke before taking them into town by bus to be registered. But transportation delays and long waits without water in temperatures near 32 degrees Celsius (nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit) rankled the migrants.

The migrants chanted "We want to go to camp!" as police looked on. One man from Syria said "people are angry because nobody respects us."

Hungary's governing Fidesz party said, meanwhile, it will propose setting up transit zones on the border where migrants would have to wait until their asylum requests were decided. Hungary has already built a razor-wire border fence but the migrants are easily climbing over or under it.

___

4:30 p.m.

Syrians on the road in Europe miss their native country but are hopeful about prospects for a better life in Europe.

Bashar Botros, who was walking Friday through a migrant camp in Kanjiza, a northern Serbian town near the Hungarian border, says Syria "is a lovely country." He says his family had hoped to live there for the rest of their lives "but the war didn't let us live like normal people."

Yamen Hatem, another Syrian at the camp, said after the civil war began life got much harder with "checkpoints everywhere and bombs." He said beginning a new life in Europe is "going to be hard" but he's determined to make it work.

Botros, who wants to go to Germany and enroll in college, was trying to learn German on his mobile phone. He says he's aiming for Germany because "it has the best universities in the world ... I am very excited, actually, to study in Germany."

___

3:30 p.m.

Hungarian police say they have arrested 21 suspected human traffickers in Budapest.

Those arrested Wednesday and Thursday included 16 Romanians, two Syrians, two Hungarians and a Russian citizen. Police said Friday that 16 cars or vans also were confiscated, which had been carrying 112 migrants, including several Syrians, in addition to the traffickers.

The migrants were traveling along the Balkans route into the European Union. The route goes from Turkey by sea to Greece, then up to Macedonia, through Serbia and Hungary, then west to claim asylum in wealthier EU nations like Germany, Austria and Sweden.

In a related case, Austrian police found 71 migrants dead Thursday in a food truck parked along the main highway to Vienna from Budapest. Police say the migrants likely suffocated.

___

3:10 p.m.

Prosecutors in Sicily say they have detained 10 people on suspicion of smuggling and murder for having allegedly crammed dozens of migrants into the airless hold of a boat where 52 bodies were found this week.

Carmine Mosca, head of the Palermo police squad, said Friday that survivors of the deadly Mediterranean crossing recounted how the smugglers would beat the migrants back with knives if they tried to come out of the hold for air.

Palermo prosecutor Maurizio Scalia said the detained crew included seven Moroccans, two Syrians and a Libyan. The bodies of the dead arrived in Palermo late Thursday and autopsies were being performed Friday.

Officials believe the migrants likely died of asphyxiation. Scalia said the hull of the 20-meter (66-foot) boat contained about 60 people but was only a meter (3 feet) high, with two small windows and the boat's engine.

___

2:45 p.m.

Hussein Asheini, the head of Libya's Red Crescent in the coastal city of Zuwara, says at least 105 migrants have drowned off the Libyan coast when their boat capsized.

He says Friday some died after being trapped inside the boat. Fishermen and the coast guard found the waterlogged vessel at sea Thursday and towed it back to Zuwara, where they had to break the ship's deck to reach the people trapped inside.

He says "the boat sank out at sea, and a coast guard team is still diving in and checking inside to see if there's anyone else." He said there's conflicting casualty figures and the Red Crescent is still counting the bodies and the survivors.

The U.N. refugee agency says up to 200 people are missing and feared dead after two smugglers' boats carrying an estimated 500 migrants capsized off the western Libyan coast. The U.N. says so far 100 survivors have been rescued from the boats.

___

2:30 p.m.

Scuffles and some fights are breaking out among the more than 1,000 migrants, including families with young children, gathered at Greece's northern border with Macedonia.

Macedonian authorities are allowing up to 50 people to cross at a time, with more arriving by the busload all day at the informal crossing outside the Greek village of Idomeni. Once in Macedonia, the migrants board trains or buses heading north to Serbia.

A Greek border policeman estimates about 1,000 people are crossing in an eight-hour period every day. The officer spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

About 300 of the migrants had arrived Thursday and spent the chilly night in the open, lighting small fires to keep warm. Aid organizations including Doctors Without Borders were providing medical help, shelter, food and water. Most were from Syria and Afghanistan.

___

2:10 p.m.

An administrative court in Dresden has rejected a blanket ban on public assembly in the town of Heidenau — leading German authorities to brace for possible far-right violence in the eastern state of Saxony this weekend.

Local authorities had imposed the ban to prevent a repeat of the neo-Nazi riots outside a refugee shelter last weekend in which dozens of police officers were injured.

Germany's Interior Ministry said Friday that federal police would now be sent to Heidenau to support local forces.

Most Germans have been welcoming toward the tens of thousands of refugees coming each month, but a far-right minority are strongly opposed to the influx. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was booed and heckled on Wednesday when she visited the targeted refugee center and urged tolerance for refugees.

___

1:55 p.m.

A Hungarian national police spokeswoman says four people are in custody in connection with the 71 migrants who suffocated to death in a refrigerated truck found parked on a main Austrian highway.

Police spokeswoman Viktoria Csiszer-Kovacs says Friday the four detained Thursday in Hungary include three Bulgarian citizens and one person from Afghanistan. One of the Bulgarians is the owner of the truck. Nearly 20 other people were questioned as witnesses and houses connected to the case were also searched.

Austrian police chief Hans Peter Doskozil says police believe the suspects are part of a larger Bulgarian-Hungarian smuggling ring. Two Hungarian police detectives are in Austria, helping with the case.

___

1:35 p.m.

Trying to cross the wide, rough Mediterranean Sea on an overcrowded smuggler's boat is a deadly risk, even in the warm summer weather.

The International Office of Migration has recorded 2,432 deaths linked to Mediterranean migrant crossings this year, but expects that figure to rise because Libyan authorities are still counting the dead from three shipwrecks off the Libyan coast in the last two days.

Authorities found 52 bodies in the hull of one boat off Libya on Wednesday, and U.N. officials say another 200 migrants are missing and feared dead after two other unseaworthy boats capsized Thursday off the western Libyan port of Zuwara.

Scores of smugglers' boats leave lawless Libya every day, packed with migrants trying to reach the safety of Europe.

___

1:20 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency says more than 300,000 migrants have sought to cross the Mediterranean Sea this year— nearly 40 percent more than the record number in all of last year.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva said Friday that 200,000 have landed in Greece alone. Greece's eastern islands have faced a nightly influx of hundreds of Syrian refugees making the short trip by boat or inflatable dinghy from Turkey.

The arrivals in Greece alone this year are close to the record number of 219,000 migrant and refugee crossings on all of the Mediterranean last year.

___

1:05 p.m.

In the wake of migrant deaths at sea and on land, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is urging authorities to crack down on the smuggling trade and to expand safe, legal ways for refugees to reach Europe.

Melissa Fleming, the spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency in Geneva, says Friday that the deaths of 71 migrants who were being smuggled into Austria in a refrigerated truck "is just absolutely shocking."

She says "we believe this underscores the ruthlessness of people smugglers who have expanded their business from the Mediterranean Sea to the highways of Europe. It shows they have absolutely no regard for human life."

Fleming also says the deaths show "the desperation of people seeking protection or a new life in Europe."

___

12:50 p.m.

Greece's coast guard says it has rescued 665 migrants at sea in 20 search-and-rescue operations off the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Agathonissi, Kos and Megisti in the 24 hours from Thursday morning to Friday morning.

The figures do not include the hundreds more who reach the islands' shores from the nearby Turkish coast each day, most of them using inflatable dinghies. The vast majority of those arriving in Greece are Syrian and Afghan refugees.

The migrants pouring into Greece are hoping to travel north via the Balkans and apply for asylum in wealthy European Union nations like Germany, Austria or Sweden. Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary have been overwhelmed this summer by the tens of thousands of migrants traveling through their countries.

___

12:40 p.m.

U.N. authorities say 100 people have been rescued off the coast of Libya amid a smuggling disaster at sea.

Othman Belbeisi, chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration for Libya, said Friday that the number rescued Thursday from two overcrowded smugglers' boats off the coast of Libya included nine women and two girls.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says an estimated 200 migrants are missing and feared dead after the two migrant boats capsized off Libya.

Belbeisi said 400 people had been packed onto one of the boats.

The bodies and the survivors were being brought back to the western Libyan city of Zuwara.

___

12:15 p.m.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says an estimated 200 migrants are missing and feared dead after two smuggling boats capsized off the coast of Libya.

The U.N. agency says Friday the Libyan Coast Guard conducted two rescue operations seven miles off the Libyan port city of Zuwara. Two boats carrying an approximate total of 500 migrants were intercepted Thursday and the survivors taken to shore in Libya.

An undetermined number of bodies were also recovered and taken to shore. An Associated Press photographer saw authorities Thursday night loading bodies in orange bags onto the back of a pickup truck.

Zuwara is in western Libya near the border with Tunisia.

___

11:55 a.m.

Authorities in the Libyan coastal city of Zuwara are collecting the bodies of migrants who drowned off the coast in their desperate quest to reach Europe.

An Associated Press photographer saw workers on Thursday night pulling out bodies floating in the water and loading other bodies in orange bags onto the back of a pickup truck. It was not clear how many migrants had drowned.

Dozens of barely seaworthy smugglers' boats packed with migrants are launched from lawless Libya each week, mainly heading to Italy. On Wednesday, authorities found the bodies of 52 migrants who had been trapped in the hull of one migrant boat north of Libya. Another 439 people from that boat were rescued.

Migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia are flooding into Europe this year in unprecedented numbers.

__

11:40 a.m.

Austrian police investigating the deaths of 71 migrants found in truck along a main highway say they likely suffocated to death.

Hans Peter Doskozil, chief of police in Austria's eastern Burgenland province where the tragedy occurred, gave both the death toll and the cause of death Friday at a news conference in the city of Einsenstadt.

He also said Hungarian police detained seven suspects in the case overnight and early Friday, then arrested three of them. He said two of the suspects are Bulgarians, while the third has Hungarian identity papers.

He said a Syrian travel document was found among the bodies, which suggests that at least some of the 59 men, eight women and four children who died were fleeing the violence in that nation.

___

11:30 am

Austrian police say three people have been arrested in connection with the deaths of 71 migrants found in a food truck on an Austrian highway.

The toll includes eight women and four children, one of them an infant.

The death toll and the arrests were announced at a news conference Friday, a day after the vehicle was found on the main highway between Vienna and Budapest, Hungary.