The Latest: Hundreds seek to cross Turkey-Greece border
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The Latest: Hundreds seek to cross Turkey-Greece border
Sep. 16, 2015
HORGOS, Serbia (AP) — The latest developments as European governments rush to cope with the huge number of people moving across Europe. All times local (CET):
Hundreds of migrants have demonstrated near Turkey's western border with Greece, demanding that authorities allow them to cross the frontier. Many refuse the food being handed out by a Turkish relief organization and pledge to start a hunger strike until their demands are met.
The migrants, most of them refugees from Syria, have been gathering at the border since the beginning of the week, hoping they will be allowed to cross into Greece overland instead of risking their lives at sea.
Authorities have given the estimated 1,700 people there three days to leave the area, according to an official in the provincial governor's office who provided the information on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
The AP saw several people leaving in vans back to Istanbul, but many more appeared ready to stay at the border for as long as it took.
"We are not going back," Ahmed El Latif told the AP. "Either we all die here or we will go to Greece."
Romania's foreign ministry has summoned Hungary's ambassador to Romania to express criticism about a fence Hungary plans to build on the border with Romania to deter migrants.
The ministry said it had called in Botond Zakonyi to officially protest the planned fence and a series of comments made by Hungarian officials in recent days.
The foreign ministry said Romania and Hungary had cooperated well on border and police matters in the past "and consequently we should have a joint analysis of the situation."
The ministry said it had declined to receive a note of protest from the ambassador about the situation.
Serbian doctors say two people have been seriously injured and between 200 and 300 have sought medical help after Hungarian police used tear gas and water cannons to stop migrants from entering the country.
Dr. Margit Pajor from the medical center in Kanjiza, near the border with Hungary, said that most of the migrants suffered cuts, bruises and burns or eye problems caused by tear gas.
She says that "they were lining up so we wash their eyes or put bandages."
Pajor says two people have been sent to a nearby hospital, one of them with a serious head injury.
Serbia's prime minister has condemned the "brutal treatment" of migrants by Hungarian police and warned the neighboring country not to fire tear gas onto its territory again.
Aleksandar Vucic, speaking from the U.S. while on an official visit, said he would raise the issue in a meeting Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Vucic also said there must be an EU response to clashes between migrants and Hungarian police, who used tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons against hundreds of people at the Hungary-Serbia border.
Hungary's prime minister says the country will build a fence on some sections of its border with Croatia, an alternate migration route into Western Europe some migrants have begun to use.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in an interview published in the online edition of Germany's Die Welt newspaper that "we will also have to extend the fence to the Croatian border."
Hungary's nearly completed fence on the border with Serbia has impeded the flow of migrants.
Hungary already has announced plans to extend the fence on the Romanian border in an effort to cut off routes for migrants seeking to reach Germany and other richer countries further west in the EU.
More than 201,000 migrants entered Hungary this year, nearly all by walking across the southern border with Serbia, before Hungary began applying stricter migration and asylum rules on Tuesday.
Croatian police say that nearly 900 people have entered the country as they seek a new migration route into the European Union after Hungary sealed its border with Serbia.
Police said that 892 people had been registered by 1700 GMT (1 p.m. EDT), more than 12 hours after first groups started coming in.
Serbia's state TV says one of its crews reporting on the migration crisis on the border with Hungary has been beaten by baton-wielding Hungarian police and its equipment was broken.
Radio-Television Serbia said on its website that a reporter, a cameraman and his assistant were beaten although they identified themselves as journalists. It says the crew was standing between Hungarian police and the migrants.
RTS TV says Hungarian police pushed the cameraman against the wall and then beat him on the head and back with batons, before smashing his camera. The reporter's Jovana arm has been hurt.
All three have been taken to a nearby hospital for a checkup.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he has been "shocked" to see how refugees and migrants have been treated, and he calls it unacceptable.
He said that he had spoken by phone with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Ban also singled out Syria, saying that "people facing barrel bombs and brutality in their country will continue to seek life in another."
Serbia's interior minister says additional police troops will be sent to the border with Hungary following clashes involving migrants and Hungarian police.
Nebojsa Stefanovic said that "the idea is to prevent further attacks on the Hungarian police from our territory and to separate in a humane and decent way migrants from the fences and the Hungarian police."
Stefanovic adds that "we will do our best to make sure there are no more incidents, but we would like to see our Hungarian colleagues treat the migrants less aggressively."
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic says that Hungary has asked in a diplomatic note that Serbia "stop what it (Hungary) described as armed migrants from crossing the state border."
Dacic says Serbia will send a note asking Hungary to "prevent any possibility of the situation such as happened today when tear gas was fired on our territory."
Migrants hurled objects, including stones and bricks at Hungarian police from the Serbian side of the border. Hungarian police responded with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons.
The Czech government's committee for the rights of foreigners has condemned the practice of authorities charging refugees in detention centers for food and accommodation.
Committee head Magda Faltova says the practice of charging migrants about $10 a day is "illegal."
The committee also called on authorities to stop detaining those who can't be returned to the countries from which they came. It also says there's no reason to keep them in detention for 42 days as happens now and they should be immediately released.
The migrants mostly use the Czech Republic as a transit country on the way to wealthy EU countries.
Baltic officials have detained scores of migrants for staying illegally and attempting move on to Finland with forged documents.
Estonian police spokesman Ivo Utsar said they caught 11 Afghanis at the Tallinn harbor as they attempted to board a Finland-bound ferry with forged documents.
Officials in Latvia have detained 17 Iraqi migrants headed for Finland for illegally staying in the country. In Lithuania, a Latvian car with five Iraqi migrants was stopped en route to Finland.
A spokesman for the Hungarian government says those who tried to push past a border post present a very real danger to his country.
Zoltan Kovacs told journalists "these people are not peaceful. They are not simply wanting to go through Hungary. They carry a danger and that nature is very clear."
He asked "do you believe that armed refugees would be attacking police lines and trying to come and enter a country? I don't believe so!"
Serbia's foreign ministry says Hungary has closed traffic over the main border crossing between the two countries.
A statement said the Horgos crossing will remain "temporarily, partially closed for thirty days." It adds that Hungary said the situation at the border crossing "is endangering public security in Hungary."
Hundreds of people trying to reach the European Union have been trapped in the border area after Hungary closed its border with Serbia on Tuesday to stem the influx.
Austria's interior minister says the country will start selective controls on its border with Slovenia within the next few hours because the border situation with Hungary has "calmed significantly."
Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told the Austria Press Agency that anyone wishing to apply for asylum still could do so. At the same time, she said Austria was looking to send "a clear signal" that the country cannot handle an uncontrolled mass influx of migrants.
Serbia is protesting Hungary's use of tear gas and water cannons against migrants at their shared border.
Serbian minister Aleksandar Vulin expressed "the harshest possible protest" in a live statement on Serbian state TV from the Horgos 2 border crossing where the clashes took place earlier.
Vulin came to the border crossing after the clash and invited refugees to return to the nearby town of Kanjiza to get food, water, medical aid and rest.
He said the migrants' frustration was understandable after Hungary closed the border. Vulin says "Hungary must show it is ready and capable to accept these people."
The chaotic clashes at the Hungarian-Serbian border have eased but left people there stunned.
Several people fainted, including a woman holding a baby. Children and women cried while young men with scarves over their faces hurled stones as they charged toward Hungarian police through thick tear gas smoke.
Police fired tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons at the crowd as some tried to push through a border post. Ambulances with sirens wailing came from Serbia to treat the injured.
Serbian border policemen watched the clashes from a distance, some shaking their heads as tear gas canisters landed in their country.
The European Union is rethinking a plan to share 120,000 refugees after Hungary refused to have tens of thousands of refugees there redistributed among its EU partners.
The European Commission has proposed to relocate refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary to other nations over the next two years. There was no immediate explanation for Hungary's stance.
Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency, told EU lawmakers there would be an "important change" in the plan before it's debated by interior ministers on Tuesday.
Hungary says it's asking Serbian authorities to take action against those attacking Hungarian riot police from the Serbian side of the border.
Clashes have broken out, with migrants throwing rocks and bottles at Hungarian riot police and the police replying with tear gas and water cannons.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto says Hungarian authorities have sent the crackdown request to the Serbian government. Hungary closed its border with Serbia on Tuesday, creating a bottleneck of people fleeing violence in their homelands.
Refugees are shocked and angry after Hungarian police sprayed tear gas and water cannons at those trying to push through a border post.
Several people received medical treatment from the Serbian ambulance service at the scene of clashes near Horgos. Most were suffering from the tear gas but one young man had a bloody leg.
"We fled wars and violence and did not expect such brutality and inhumane treatment in Europe," said Amir Hassan of Iraq, soaking wet from the water cannon and trying to wash tear gas from his eyes.
"Shame on you Hungarians!" he shouted, pointing toward Hungarian police.
Serbian police have sent ambulances to the border after Hungarian police sprayed tear gas and water cannons at migrants trying to break through a border post. It was not clear how many people were injured. Many migrants are crying from the tear gas.
British Home Secretary Theresa May says Britain will welcome the first group of Syrian refugees allowed in under a new resettlement program within days.
She told Parliament the refugees will come from camps surrounding Syria and the government is pressing hard to organize more arrivals in the coming weeks.
Prime Minister David Cameron said last week Britain would take in up to 20,000 refugees in the next five years — a substantial expansion of its resettlement program.
The Czech Republic's human rights minister says his country should help a much bigger number of refugees.
The Czech government has rejected a plan by the European Union for introducing mandatory quotas for accepting migrants. It has so far said the country was ready to accept 2,000 refugees.
But minister Jiri Dienstbier says the Czech Republic should show solidarity and share the refugee burden on a voluntary basis, possibly accepting 7,000-15,000 people.
Hungarian border police have again sprayed tear gas at migrants along the border with Serbia, triggering a panicky stampede by the crowd, which included many women and children, away from the border gate.
Many people were in tears trying to wash away the gas from their eyes.
The German government says the leaders of Germany and Turkey have discussed the migration crisis and called for stepped-up efforts to achieve a "political solution" to end Syria's civil war.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone. The government said Merkel praised the "enormous Turkish efforts" to take care of nearly 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. It added that the two leaders agreed to increase cooperation on resolving the refugee crisis, with an emphasis on combatting traffickers.
Turkey is a main point of departure for Syrians and others seeking a better life in Europe, with many setting off for Greece's eastern islands aboard flimsy boats.
Hungarian police have used tear gas after hundreds of migrants broke through a razor-wire fence on the border with Serbia.
The police stopped the crowd, who threw plastic water bottles at them. There were no reports of injuries. Several people were seen with tears in their eyes from the gas.
3: 15 p.m.
Germany has seen a decline in the number of new migrants arriving since it introduced border checks on the Austrian frontier, though the influx is still significant.
Germany imposed the checks Sunday, saying it wanted to ensure that refugee arrivals were more orderly and that newcomers were registered.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate said the numbers "have decreased very significantly" but are still in the thousands every day.
A Hungarian court has found an Iraqi man guilty of "illegally crossing the border," the first conviction based on a new law meant to stop the huge flow of migrants into Hungary.
Hungarian media reported the judge ordered the man expelled from Hungary and banned him from returning for one year. It was expected that he would be returned to Serbia, the country that many migrants have used on their way into Hungary.
The accused said he was unaware that illegal border crossing was a crime, but the judge rejected his argument, saying "ignorance of the law doesn't excuse anybody."
Blocked by Hungary, migrants in Serbia have started entering neighboring Croatia. But that brings them into a whole new danger zone — former mine fields along the country's front line in its 1991-95 war.
Croatia's Mine Action Center says there are still 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) of suspicious areas throughout the country, but all have been clearly marked.
Syrian President Bashar Assad is blaming Europe for the migration crisis, saying it's a direct result of the West's support for extremists in Syria over the past four years.
In an interview with Russian media, Assad accused Europe of supporting "terrorism" and providing "protection for terrorists, calling them moderates."
"If you are worried about them (refugees), stop supporting terrorists," he said, addressing Europe.
Hungary's foreign minister says the razor-wire fence on its border with Serbia is needed to secure the European Union's external border and will remain as long as large numbers of migrants keep trying to enter Hungary.
Peter Szijjarto told The Associated Press that "only a physical obstacle" could help Hungary protect its border as long as migrants were able to pour into fellow EU member Greece and make their way north.
He urged the EU to send police forces to help Greece control the influx, to which Hungary would make a "massive contribution."
There was joy and relief for some Syrian refugees who finally crossed into Germany.
Mohammed Al Zain, a 22-year-old economics student from Aleppo, walked into the German town of Freilassing from the Austrian city of Salzburg after being stuck waiting for 12 hours for his train to get permission to cross the border.
Squeezing his 7-year-old brother into a bear hug, he says border guards "told us 'Welcome to Germany' and we are very happy right now."
Zain says "me and my brother, I didn't see him for one year. Finally (we are) meeting here."
German police say traffickers appear to be changing tack: instead of taking migrants across the border into Germany, they are dumping them in Austria and telling them to walk over the bridges themselves.
Germany put controls on its border Sunday in an effort to catch smugglers and bring some order to the influx of tens of thousands.
Federal police spokesman Thimad Schweikl told The Associated Press that more than 1,000 migrants had crossed into Germany on foot in the southern region of Passau in the past 24 hours.
He says they were brought to the bridges in groups of 20 to 40 by traffickers seeking to avoid arrest.
Greek police say about 5,000 people have crossed the country's northern border with Macedonia in the last 24 hours.
Thousands have been crossing every day, making their way north across the Balkans overland to more prosperous European Union countries such as Germany and Sweden.
Austrian Federal Railways has stopped all train traffic from Salzburg, near the German border, into Germany itself, citing a request from German authorities.
Thousands of migrants and refugees have taken trains from Salzburg to Munich for more than a week. Most of the people streaming into Austria from Hungary have continued on to Germany.
Railway officials say trains traveling from Salzburg through a small section of southern Germany to Austria's western province of Tyrol will continue operating.
Croatia's prime minister has criticized Hungary's decision to seal its border with Serbia for migrants and says Croatia will not do the same.
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told Parliament "we are ready to accept and direct those people." Milanovic says 150 people have already crossed into Croatia to avoid Hungary's closed border.
Referring to Hungary's fence, Milanovic says "barbed wire in Europe in the 21st century is not an answer, it's a threat."
Greece's coast guard has picked up hundreds of people from the sea near eastern Aegean islands as they attempted to reach Greece clandestinely from the nearby Turkish coast.
The coast guard said it rescued 773 people in 19 separate search-and-rescue operations in the last 24 hours off the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Rhodes. The figures do not include the hundreds more who manage to reach the islands themselves.
More than 250,000 people have reached Greece clandestinely so far this year, the vast majority of them Syrians or Afghans fleeing conflict at home.