The Latest: Norway halts deportations to Russia
Jan. 21, 2016
IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — The latest developments in Europe's immigration crisis. All times local.
Norwegian police say they have halted deportations of asylum-seekers to Russia to further review their cases, after three people sought refuge in a church in the far north of the country.
Tor Espen Haga, spokesman for the Kirkenes police, says the two men and a woman, who were not further identified, were among 34 people scheduled to be returned by bus to Russia across the Storskog border near the town, but that officials felt they needed "to further study their cases."
Haga said Thursday that the three migrants in the church would be arrested once they leave the premises. He did not give further details.
Last year, some 5,500 people crossed from Russia at the remote Arctic border post, many of them on bicycles. Haag said that some of the migrants had permits to stay in Russia where they had been living for years and did not qualify for asylum. So far, Norwegian officials have returned some 230 migrants at Storskog "with a few hundred more" expected later, Haag said.
Slovenia's interior minister says only refugees who wish to seek asylum in Austria or Germany will be allowed to enter the country and continue their journey toward Western Europe.
Vesna Gyerkes Znidar said the new rule is being implemented as of Thursday.
The same restriction has been announced by Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia, the countries on the so-called Balkan migrant corridor that starts in Greece.
A city in Denmark has made pork mandatory on municipal menus, including for schools and daycare centers, with politicians insisting the move is necessary for preserving the country's food traditions and is not an attack on Muslims.
Frank Noergaard, a member of the council in Randers that narrowly approved the decision, says it was made to ensure pork remains "a central part of Denmark's food culture."
Denmark is a major pork producer, but pork is forbidden to Muslims and Jews. Most of the asylum-seekers who have arrived in Denmark this year are Muslim.
Noergaard, a member of the anti-immigration, populist Danish People's Party that proposed the council motion, said Thursday that it wasn't meant as a "harassment of Muslims," but added that he had received "several complaints about too many concessions" made to Muslims in the small, predominantly Lutheran country.
Last week, the Danish government announced plans to force asylum-seekers to hand over valuables to help cover their housing and food costs while their cases are being processed.
Turkey's coast guard says 12 migrants have drowned after a boat taking them to the Greek islands capsized in rough weather.
A coast guard statement said 26 others were rescued on Thursday off the Turkish Aegean resort of Foca, near Turkey's third-largest city, Izmir.
One of the survivors, 31-year-old Iraqi national Yusuf Ali, told the state-run Anadolu Agency that he lost his wife and child in the incident.
Ali was quoted as saying: "The boat started to take in water. We just couldn't stop it. My daughter and my wife drowned in the water."
Anadolu said security forces had detained two alleged human smugglers.
About 40 migrants have died so far this year off Turkey's coast while trying to cross into Greece, the coast guard says.
The governor of Bavaria is praising neighboring Austria for introducing a cap on the number of refugees allowed into the country.
Horst Seehofer says he wants a similar limit for Germany, even though Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly rejected the idea.
Seehofer, whose center-right party is part of Merkel's governing coalition at the national level, has become one of the most prominent critics of her handling of the refugee crisis. He told reporters Thursday in the town of Kreuth that tensions with Merkel on the refugee issue "inevitably" affect other areas of the federal government's work.
Seehofer has accused Merkel of creating a "strong magnetic effect" when she announced Sept. 4 that Germany would take in refugees stranded in other European countries.
Almost 1.1 million asylum-seekers arrived in Germany last year.
The Czech prime minister says all EU nations must work to increase the protection of the external border of the European visa-free Schengen travel zone and to ensure a proper registration of all incoming migrants to be able to reduce their influx.
In a debate Thursday in Parliament's lower house, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka says that's a more effective response to the migrant crisis than to reintroduce border checks as some EU nations have done.
Sobotka says his government is ready to deploy forces to close the Czech border if necessary but would prefer an all European action on the external EU border. He says EU migrant registration "hotspots" in Greece and Italy have been far from effective yet.
Sobotka also dismissed the views of some that there's an "automatic" link between the migrants and terrorism but added that those who don't respect the rule of law should be expelled from the EU.
An Italian ecumenical mission is in Lebanon this week to work out the final details of a pilot project to bring as many as 1,000 refugees to Italy on humanitarian visas so they're not tempted to risk sea crossings to Europe.
The U.N. refugee agency has welcomed the initiative, one of many types of private sponsorships that are enabling particularly vulnerable refugees to reach safety and start new lives in third countries.
In this case, the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy and the Rome-based Catholic Sant'Egidio Community teamed up to ask the Italian government grant 1,000 humanitarian visas for refugees in camps in Lebanon, Morocco and Ethiopia. Organizers say a first group of 100 refugees in Lebanon could arrive by the end of the month or early February.
A newspaper reports that least two German states make refugees hand over assets above a certain amount to pay for their upkeep.
The practice mirrors similar rules in Switzerland, where authorities can make refugees surrender any assets above 1,000 Swiss francs ($996).
German daily Bild reported Thursday that the southern state of Bavaria, where most of the 1.1 million asylum seekers to Germany last year first set foot, sets the bar at 750 euros ($818).
The neighboring state of Baden-Wuerttemberg allows refugees to keep just 350 euros.
German officials say refugees are treated in the same way as German residents who have to use up their own funds before receiving basic welfare payments.
Denmark is due to vote on introducing a similar measure this month.
Macedonian authorities have reopened their borders to asylum-seekers heading north to wealthier European countries, but are only letting in people whose stated final destination is Germany or Austria.
About 1,700 people had been stranded for up to two days in freezing temperatures at Greece's northern border with Macedonia. The crossing opened just before midday Thursday.
Greek police are now asking migrants to state on their ID papers which country they are heading for. In November, Macedonia and other Balkan countries imposed a first check on transient migrants, excluding all but Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, whom they deem refugees and not economic migrants.
The new limitation follows an Austrian decision to only allow in migrants heading for Austria or Germany, which shook up migration patterns in the Balkans.