IOM: Panicked migrants leaped off sinking smugglers' ship

AP News
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Posted: Apr 20, 2016 12:11 PM
IOM: Panicked migrants leaped off sinking smugglers' ship

STRASBOURG, France (AP) — The Latest on Europe's response to the wave of migration from Syria and other countries (all times local):

6:05 p.m.

The International Organization for Migration says it is confirming reports that hundreds of people died in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea last week, describing survivors' accounts of panicked passengers desperately trying to stay afloat by jumping between vessels.

The U.N. refugee agency says up to 500 people are feared dead in a shipwreck last week in the waters between Libya and Italy.

The IOM says its staffers met Tuesday with survivors of the incident who were rescued Saturday by a Filipino cargo ship off the Libyan coast. The group said some 200 migrants left the Libyan coastal city of Tobruk on several small boats, each carrying between 30 to 40 people and bound for a larger vessel on the high seas.

IOM said the larger vessel, which was already desperately overcrowded with about 300 people, "began taking on water" when the newcomers got on. As the larger vessel began to sink, "panicking passengers tried to jump into the smaller boats they had arrived in."

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4:35 p.m.

A witness to a refugee camp fire in northern Greece says the blaze was sparked by a woman trying to cook for her children inside her tent. About a dozen tents were burnt, and police said three people were treated for smoke inhalation at a nearby hospital.

About 100 refugees in the Diavata camp near the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki held a brief protest after the fire was extinguished, complaining that firefighters took about half an hour to arrive. They also called for European borders to be opened.

Ahmed el Bohisi, a 25-year-old Palestinian from Gaza who was among the protesters, said a cooking fire inside a tents caused the blaze. He says, "The only thing we want is for the borders to open," he said.

Just over 2,300 refugees live in the camp.

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3:25 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency says up to 500 people are feared dead in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea last week.

UNHCR says the disaster happened in the waters between Italy and Libya, based on accounts from 41 survivors who were rescued on April 16 by a merchant ship.

The survivors said they had been among 100 to 200 people who left a town near Tobruk, Libya, on a smugglers' boat last week. The agency says Wednesday that "after sailing for several hours, the smugglers in charge of the boat attempted to transfer the passengers to a larger ship carrying hundreds of people in terribly overcrowded conditions."

The agency says "at one point during the transfer, the larger boat capsized and sank."

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3:20 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency says up to 500 people are feared dead in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea last week.

UNHCR says the disaster happened in the waters between Italy and Libya, based on accounts from survivors rescued on April 16.

The 41 survivors — 37 men, three women and a 3-year-old child — were rescued by a merchant ship and taken to Kalamata, in the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece. Those rescued include 23 Somalis, 11 Ethiopians, 6 Egyptians and a Sudanese.

3:10 p.m.

A fire broke out in a refugee camp in northern Greece Wednesday, burning more than a dozen tents and sparking a protest by refugees. Police said at least two people were taken to a hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.

The blaze started from a tent in the Diavata camp, near the northern city of Thessaloniki, and spread to others, leaving at least 13 dwellings burnt. It was not immediately clear what sparked the fire, which firefighters extinguished. The fire sparked a protest by about 100 people in the camp, with half of them spilling out onto the road and attempting to block traffic.

Just over 2,300 refugees live in the camp. About 54,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece after Europe closed its land borders to the massive refugee flow.

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2:40 p.m.

Austria's president has told lawmakers that his country received more asylum applications in 2015 than it saw births, highlighting the demographic fears driving Europe's chaotic response to mass migration from the Middle East and elsewhere.

In a speech Wednesday to the Council of Europe, President Heinz Fischer says there were 88,000 asylum applications last year, which would be about 1 percent of the small Alpine country's population of 8.5 million people. Austria's statistics body put the number of live births at roughly 82,000 in 2014.

Fischer says that "cannot become a permanent state of affairs."

Austria has sparked a domino effect of border closures across the Balkans, prompting a pileup of migrants in Greece that sparked a recent European Union deal with Turkey to combat the migrant influx.

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1:50 p.m.

The European Union says Turkey must meet a number of conditions within two weeks if it wants to secure visa-free travel in Europe for its citizens before July.

The EU's migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said Wednesday that "if we continue working like this most of the benchmarks will be met."

The offer of visa-free travel by the end of June is one of several incentives the EU has offered Turkey to stop migrants coming to Europe.

Turkish leaders have said the whole migrant deal will collapse if the EU fails to grant a visa waiver.

The European Commission is to present a new visa liberalization report on May 4. If Turkey has met the requirements by then the Commission will propose that it be put on the visa-free list.

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1:15 p.m.

The European Union's statistics agency says that EU countries granted asylum to more than 330,000 applicants last year, as more than 1 million people arrived in search of sanctuary or jobs.

Eurostat said Wednesday that 333,350 people were granted international protection, a 72 percent increase over 2014.

Around half of them — 166,100 people — were Syrian citizens, while 27,600 came from Eritrea and 23,700 from Iraq.

Germany, Sweden, Italy and France approved most applications. Germany took in 60 percent of the Syrians, the agency says.

Eurostat did not say how many of the approved asylum applications were made before 2015, nor did it say how many applications from last year are still pending.

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12:25 p.m.

Human Rights Watch has urged Turkey to allow Syrians displaced by government shelling to cross the border to safety.

It says the Syrian army hit two migrant camps on April 13 and 15, triggering an exodus of 3,000 people.

Last week, the rights group said Turkish border guards had shot at Syrians escaping an Islamic State offensive. Turkey, home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees, rejects the claim and says it has an open-door policy toward migrants, but new arrivals are rare.

Rights groups have repeatedly slammed a new Turkey-EU deal to curtail the flood of refugees into Europe, raising questions about the safety of Syrian refugees on both sides of the Turkish border.

The rights group says tens of thousands of civilians are trapped along Turkey's border.