The Latest: Migrants in Serbia protest, urging open borders

AP News
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Posted: Jan 25, 2017 9:09 AM
The Latest: Migrants in Serbia protest, urging open borders

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest on the influx of migrants into Europe (all times local):

3:05 p.m.

Several hundred migrants stranded in freezing weather in Serbia have staged a protest urging Europe to open its borders.

Holding banners, migrants gathered Wednesday outside an old customs warehouse in central Belgrade that has been a makeshift shelter for hundreds of men and boys from countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ahmed Osmani from Afghanistan says "we want the border (to) open because 90 percent of people that are here are all sick." A huge blue-and-white migrant banner reads: 'Freedom of movement.' Another one pleads: 'Open border please.'

Aid groups have warned migrants in Serbia have been at risk of exposure since extreme winter weather gripped the Balkan country in early January.

Some 7,000 migrants have been staying in Serbia's asylum camps or sleeping rough in makeshift shelters or parks.

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1:40 p.m.

The European Commission on Wednesday urged European leaders to endorse sweeping measures to help stop tens of thousands of desperate people from leaving Libya in search of better lives in Europe, with thousands dying during the perilous journey.

The Commission said in documents that the leaders should "deploy the full range of EU missions and projects" to help Libyans manage their borders and protect migrants.

Conflict-torn Libya is a main departure point for African migrants trying to reach Europe via Italy. More than 181,000 people attempted the dangerous central Mediterranean crossing last year. About 4,500 died or disappeared.

Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement that "too many people are still dying in the Mediterranean."

He said: "First and foremost, stability in Libya and the region as a whole is required."

Some senior EU officials predict that record new migrant arrivals are likely again this year, but Libya has no stable central authority that the Europeans can effectively negotiate with.

The EU has for several years tried to cobble together migration polices while people died at sea. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, has warned that a new migrant crisis could reach European shores in coming months as the weather warms.

The EU leaders, meeting in Malta's capital Valletta on Feb. 3, are urged to earmark more funds to train Libya's coastguard and help set up a rescue center there. They are also being asked to provide more equipment to the coastguard and help maintain it.

Another aim is to get a Mediterranean anti-trafficking network up and running by the spring to improve information exchanges and coordination between the Libyan coast guard and EU member states. Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia would be encouraged to join it.

The Commission also recommended support to local Libyan communities hosting migrants, as well as an effort to provide alternative jobs to those who might be lured into smuggling.

Further south, the EU's executive branch said leaders should promote border cooperation between Libya and neighboring countries that serve as transit hubs for many on their way to Europe.