The Latest: Merkel says no legal limit to refugee numbers
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The Latest: Merkel says no legal limit to refugee numbers
Sep. 10, 2015
VIENNA (AP) — The latest developments as European governments rush to cope with the huge number of migrants moving across Europe. All times local (CET):
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that there's no legal limit to the number of people fleeing political persecution her country can shelter — and also making clear anew that people who aren't entitled to asylum must return home quickly.
Germany has seen more migrants arrive than any other European country and expects 800,000 to come this year.
Asked in an interview with the daily Rheinische Post how many refugees per year it can accommodate, Merkel replied that she can't give a simple figure. She said: "The fundamental right to asylum for the politically persecuted knows no upper limit; that also goes for refugees who come to us from the hell of a civil war."
But she also noted that many people from "safe" Balkan countries are coming and said they must go home quickly if they have no grounds for asylum, which almost all don't.
The Mexican government says it is studying the possibility of accepting refugees from Syria, where war has sent millions fleeing.
Mexico's foreign relations secretary suggested Thursday the analysis is still at an early stage.
Claudia Ruiz Massieu said Mexico hasn't determined how many refugees it might accept.
Ruiz Massieu said "we are following this and working on studying the possibility of accepting some refugees at some point."
Venezuela has offered to accept 20,000 Syrians, and the United States 10,000.
As tens of thousands of Syrians are desperately fleeing their homeland, at least five Syrian families are eager to leave a country that gave them shelter.
Uruguay's president says his administration will try to help the families reach another country.
Uruguay welcomed the 42 refugees fleeing Syria's civil war in October 2014. But they protested this week outside the presidency, demanding authorities help them leave for other countries, saying Uruguay is too expensive.
President Tabare Vazquez said Thursday that Uruguay has reached out to Lebanon because that's where the refugees would like to go. Since Lebanon is not willing to welcome them, his government is asking the five families to choose another country.
The refugees lack passports from their home country, and cannot get Uruguayan ones because they are not citizens. Uruguay has provided them with local IDs and travel documents, but not all countries recognize them.
The White House says President Barack Obama has told advisers he wants to let 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. in the coming budget year.
The U.S. has accepted only about 1,500 Syrians since civil war broke out more than four years ago.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest says about $4 billion the administration has provided to relief agencies and others is the most effective way for the U.S. to help meet the humanitarian crisis in Europe. Tens of thousands of people from the Middle East and other war-torn countries are seeking safe haven across Europe.
But Earnest says Obama has decided that admitting more Syrian refugees would help boost the U.S. response.
The 2016 budget year begins Oct. 1.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says the United States should increase the number of refugees it resettles by more than 5,000 people next year as European countries struggle to accommodate the hundreds of thousands flocking in from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Pelosi said a figure of 5,000 more refugees suggested by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry "is far too low." Kerry told members of Congress in a meeting Wednesday that the U.S. will boost its worldwide quota for resettling refugees from 70,000 to 75,000 next year, adding that the number could rise. A fraction of those would be from Syria.
Pelosi said the U.S. accepted far more refugees than that after the Vietnam War and could do so again. She said she hopes other countries follow Germany's lead in accepting many refugees.
Turkey's prime minister says his country and the European Union should unite in tackling the migration crisis that has overwhelmed the region.
Speaking jointly following a meeting Thursday in Ankara, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, stressed the need to keep working together to tackle problems created by the migrant crisis.
Turkey is already hosting at least 1.9 million Syrians fleeing the war at home.
"These will be difficult choices, but our starting point is clear," Tusk said. "Solidarity and unity are our guiding principles. In combination with measures to contain the refugee flows, and the measures to get back the control of our borders from those profiting from desperation — I mean smugglers and human traffickers."
Lithuania's government says it will accept 1,105 refugees under European plans to spread them more evenly across the 28-nation bloc.
The Baltic country had already pledged to receive 325 refugees but the government said Thursday it would accept an additional 780 refugees under a new proposal by the European Commission.
Lithuanian lawmakers are expected to formally approve the government's plan on Friday.
Prosecutors in Hungary have ordered police to investigate a camerawoman caught on video kicking and tripping migrants near the border with Serbia.
Chief Prosecutor Zsolt Kopasz said they suspect the camerawoman identified in Hungarian media as Petra Laszlo of disorderly conduct and that authorities in the southern city of Szeged are also considering more serious crimes in the case.
After several videos surfaced showing Laszlo kicking a young man and a girl, as well as sticking her leg out to trip a man running past with a young boy in his arms, she was dismissed from her job at N1TV, an Internet channel associated with Hungary's far-right Jobbik party.
The migrants were running from police to avoid being fingerprinted.
The European Council on Refugees and Exiles says five EU countries are handling 70 percent or more of those seeking asylum in Europe — Germany, France, Hungary, Italy and Sweden.
Minos Mouzourakis from the council says "this was the case in 2014, and these discrepancies and inequalities in distribution have been exacerbated this year."
Germany alone received nearly 180,000 asylum applications — "nearly the number that it had received for the whole of the previous year."
The organization found that more than 380,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by crossing the Mediterranean this year, and more than 258,000 of them landed in Greece.
An Iraqi refugee who captured the world's attention after being pictured weeping as he arrived on a Greek island last month, clutching his son and daughter, is now in Berlin and looking to start a new life.
Laith Majid said Thursday he's been overwhelmed by the reception his family has received in Germany. "People know the meaning of love," he said as his daughter Nour, 7, and son Taha, 9, blew soap bubbles.
Majid, also accompanied by his wife and two older boys, says they're now looking to move on with their lives.
"We came out from death and I thank Allah for the life we are in now," he said.
Volunteers helping migrants in Hungary say conditions are a "disaster" at the border with Serbia.
Kathrin Niedermoser, a volunteer with an Austrian aid group, said Thursday "the situation here is really a big disaster, because a lot of refugees are coming every hour. We don't have real infrastructure here."
She says "there are no big tents where people can come, sleep, have a rest. We don't even have electricity, which means we don't have warm water."
Gabor Gyurko, tending to migrants at a tent run by the Catholic charity Caritas, worried about the bad weather and "the number of sick people who are going to arrive in the next few days." Torrential rains hit the area Thursday.
The Hungarian government, meanwhile, offered to assist the Hungarian Red Cross and other groups to improve conditions at the border.
At Budapest's embattled Keleti train station, migrants hoping to travel to Austria or Germany are facing a chaotic quest.
Two dozen police in surgical masks and gloves have blocked access to train platforms for more than 400 refugees and migrants holding tickets to Vienna. Police are escorting non-migrant passengers to trains directly beside migrants, who are supposed to stay on one side of the police tape. About 50 migrants were permitted on one train to Gyor.
Many of the migrants have waited 8-10 hours to board a train. Some had slept overnight in a Budapest park after traveling in the previous night from Roszke, at the Hungarian border.
A Migration Aid official with a bullhorn at Keleti is trying to keep order. But word is trickling out that the migrants may get stuck at the Austrian border because the Austrian railway company has suspended trains to and from Hungary due to a "massive overload."
Hungary's armed forces are taking part in exercises near the country's border with Serbia to prepare soldiers to assist police with controlling the huge flow of migrants reaching the country.
Defense Minister Istvan Simicsko said Thursday that around 2,000 soldiers are being trained near the southern cities of Baja and Hodmezovasarhely to help police.
The Hungarian Parliament is expected to approve legislation on Sept. 22 authorizing the army to help police at the border, where 2,000 soldiers are already working on the construction of a 4-meter (13-feet) high fence to stop migrants from walking in from Serbia.
Police say more than 176,000 migrants have entered Hungary so far this year, over four times as many as in 2014.
Denmark's decision to let migrants and refugees travel through the country to get to Sweden and other Nordic countries is getting a cool reception in Sweden.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said all countries need to follow EU asylum rules "and that means all countries must register refugees. That's what the Danish government has said before and we assume that all countries follow the rules we have."
In the Danish port city of Roedby, one of the two main crossings from Germany, migrants were seen being picked up by people in private cars. It was unclear where they were going.
The Danish railway company DSB said some train service between Germany and Denmark resumed Thursday after being suspended the day before.
Austrian railways is suspending all traffic between Hungary and Austria as migrants continue to flow over the border.
A statement from the company says Thursday's move is due to "massive overload."
The statement says trains will continue to run from Nickelsdorf to Vienna. Nickelsdorf, the main border crossing into Austria from Hungary, has been the point of entry for most of the thousands of migrants and refugees leaving Hungary and continuing into Germany and other Western European EU countries.
Thousands more have sought to get on to trains leaving the Hungarian capital, Budapest, for Vienna.
Torrential rain has turned the Macedonian border into a sea of mud — the latest trial facing those on the 1,000 mile-plus trek into Europe.
At least 7,000 people, including many parents lugging young children, braved downpours and muddy fields Thursday to cross Greece's northern border into Macedonia. Greek border police said was the largest single wave of refugees and migrants they had seen so far.
Despite wrapping themselves up in garbage bags of every kind, the migrants, many of them fleeing the war in Syria, were soaked to the skin. Their sneakers were caked with mud, their hats and hoods dripping with rain. Two men lifted a white-haired man, helping him step by step. Some parents raised their children high in the air so Macedonian police would let them through the checkpoints first.
By early afternoon, all had crossed but thousands more were on their way, heading to the Greek mainland in ferries from the country's overcrowded eastern islands.
The European Parliament has backed the plan of EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to spread out 160,000 refugees in Hungary, Greece and Italy across the other member states.
The support of the legislature had been expected and has little impact compared with the power of the member states, which also need to back the plan.
EU ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting on the issue next Monday and several eastern EU nations have already voiced their opposition to a mandatory spreading of refugees to their countries.
Romania's president says there is "no way" his country will accept the extra number of migrants the European Commission has proposed.
Romania has been asked to accept 6,351 people. Leaders say that's too much after they initially agreed to accept some 1,785.
President Klaus Iohannis said Romania will send its interior minister to a special meeting Monday in Brussels to discuss the issue.
"I had a discussion with him today and his mandate is to declare that there is no way Romania will agree to the obligatory quotas."
Iohannis said the EU is seeking to distribute migrants in a bureaucratic way without consulting member states.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited a home for refugees in Berlin and says she hopes that the integration of newcomers will be helped by their children learning German in school.
Merkel's brief visit Thursday to a refugee home in the suburb of Spandau came as Germany contemplates the task of absorbing the influx of refugees from Syria and elsewhere.
Merkel told reporters after her closed-doors visit that she spoke with two refugee families, one of them with two children now attending a kindergarten. She said: "Their integration will certainly take place in part via the children, who will learn German very quickly in kindergarten. And I hope and believe that the great majority will want to learn our language very quickly."
Hungarian police are rejecting allegations that they mistreat migrants, as a record high of more than 3,300 entered the country in just one day.
Police said Thursday around 1,000 officers were on duty on the border with Serbia, where 3,321 migrants had been detained Wednesday.
Spokeswoman Viktoria Csiszer-Kovacs said migrants at police-run points near the border with Serbia and at registration centers are being given provisions and medical attention. She called allegations of abuse "blatant lies," saying "illegal migrants are being looked after regularly and constantly."
A day earlier, Peter Brouckaert from Human Rights Watch had described "horrific" conditions for migrants in Hungary, calling it "unacceptable that people are being treated like animals on the doorstep of Europe."
Germany's vice chancellor says a new European Union plan to relocate 160,000 refugees around Europe is a good "first step" but the numbers show clearly more is needed.
Sigmar Gabriel told Parliament in Berlin on Thursday that Germany had registered some 450,000 migrants this year, including 105,000 in August and 37,000 in September through Tuesday.
"That shows that the redistribution of 160,000 refugees in Europe is a first step," Gabriel said. "One could also say a drop in the ocean that won't solve everything."
The EU proposed Wednesday in Brussels to share 120,000 refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary among 22 member states, on top of a proposal in May to share 40,000 refugees from just Greece and Italy.
Denmark's police chief says his officers have been ordered not to stop hundreds of migrants who have entered the country via Germany.
Jens Henrik Hoejbjerg says Danish officers "can't detain foreigners who do not want to seek asylum (in Denmark)."
Hoejbjerg said Thursday that the National Police made the decision late Wednesday. There was no immediate reaction from the Danish government.
Under European Union rules, people seeking asylum should do so in the first EU country they enter and not travel from one country to another. Many migrants say they want to go on to Sweden, Norway or Finland, because they have relatives there or believe that conditions for asylum-seekers are better.
Austrian police say more than 3,000 migrants crossed into Austria overnight at Nickelsdorf, the main border point with Hungary.
They say a train carrying up to 500 migrants left for Vienna early Thursday but most remain at Nickelsdorf.
Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck says authorities are meeting to discuss whether further special trains will be sent to the border to take people to Vienna's Westbahnhof terminal. Most of those arriving there since the influx began last weekend chosen to continue on to Germany.