The Latest: Austria: Bulgarian convicted of human smuggling
THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — The Latest on Europe’s migration crisis (all times local):
A Bulgarian national arrested after Austrian police found 20 migrants packed into the nearly airtight back of his truck has been found guilty of human smuggling and sentenced to five years in prison.
Austrian broadcaster ORF cited police as testifying that they found 20 Syrian, Iranian and Afghan nationals pressed tightly against each other in a shared space of less than 7 square meters (about 7 square yards) when they stopped the refrigeration truck in August.
The court in the city of Linz, west of Vienna, didn’t identify the 41-year-old, in keeping with Austrian confidentiality laws. He was sentenced Wednesday after pleading guilty.
The truck was stopped only after a chase in which two patrol cars were rammed, injuring one officer.
EU Council President Donald Tusk says the first priority in the European migrant crisis is to stem the flow and reduce illegal migration, while helping Greece and Macedonia where thousands of migrants have been stranded.
Tusk said Wednesday in Croatia the EU must restore the implementation of its Schengen rules that grant free movement inside the bloc’s borderless zone, but envisage entry control on the outer rim.
Tusk says EU member states should “refuse entry to third-country nationals who do not meet the necessary conditions or who, although they were able to do so earlier, did not apply for asylum.”
Tusk was visiting the nations along the so-called Balkan migrant corridor where tensions have risen over migrant pileup. Tusk says the crisis is pushing the EU “to the limits.”
The U.N. refugee agency is praising Greece’s effort to take in refugees while scolding some of its European neighbors for suddenly slamming shut their borders and not keeping their promises — causing a “looming humanitarian crisis” on the continent.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said 25,000 people have been stranded in Greece after neighboring Macedonia and other European countries closed their borders to refugees, many trying to reach more welcoming countries like Germany and Sweden.
That’s caused a backlog with some 1,800 people — mostly Syrians and Iraqis — pouring into Greece from Turkey across the Aegean each day.
Fleming said Wednesday that only 325 people have been relocated under a European Union agreement last year in which members pledged to relocate 160,000. So far, 1,539 places have been made available.
Germany says the number of migrants coming across the border with Austria daily is now in the hundreds, a sharp reduction from last fall.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate said Wednesday that while the figure fluctuates greatly “lately it’s been in mid-three digits.”
The drop from several thousand migrants daily last year is partly due to the closure of land borders along the so-called Balkan migration route to Germany. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Berlin now plans to step up its efforts to warn migrants of the financial and health risks they are taking on when they set out for Germany.
Information campaigns in the migrants’ home and transit countries will also note that “many of them won’t have a realistic chance of staying here in Germany.”
The European Union’s head office wants to swiftly push through a proposal to earmark 700 million euros ($760 million) in humanitarian aid to deal with the refugee crisis.
EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides says Wednesday that 300 million euros ($325 million) would be earmarked for this year and be used “where it is most needed,” alluding to Greece and the nations along the Balkan trail that refugees use to move into the heartland of the 28-nation bloc The overall total would cover three years.
Stylianides says the funds would not be diverted from aid programs aimed at non-EU nations.
His proposal will still need to be approved by the European parliament and the member states. EU leaders meet Monday for a summit focusing on the migration issue.
Macedonia has intermittently opened its border with Greece to a tiny trickle of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, leaving about 10,000 more people camped on the Greek side, with more arriving daily.
The border bottleneck has left at least 25,000 people stranded in Greece, the first European country that migrants reach in smuggling boats from Turkey. As the prosperous but divided continent flails in search of a solution to the migration crisis, individual countries led by Austria have imposed refugee caps that have caused a domino effect down the Balkan migrant corridor, which was traversed by a million people over the past year.
Greek police say Macedonian police opened the Idomeni crossing at midnight Tuesday and at 7 a.m. Wednesday, each time for two hours. They admitted a total of 170 people from Syria and Iraq — the only nationalities allowed to continue north.
Macedonia says it will only allow in as many refugees as Serbia, its northern neighbor, accepts each day.
Testorides reported from Skopje, Macedonia. Nicholas Paphitis in Athens.
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