The Latest: Macedonia calls on Greece to relocate migrants
IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — The Latest on the flow of migrants into Europe (all times local):
Macedonia’s foreign minister is calling on neighboring Greece to move thousands of migrants stuck on its side of the border away to more suitable reception centers.
Nikola Poposki told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that this would offer stranded migrants “humane and safe treatment,” instead of having them in tents a few hundred meters (yards) from the border.
“This is really not a solution,” Poposki said of the tent city. “If you really care about these people they should be hosted in reception centers that can host such a large number of people.”
At least 10,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees have been waiting for days at the Idomeni crossing on Greece’s border with Macedonia, in an official shelter and in tents that they set up in the fields.
Greek authorities say freight train services have resumed between Greece and Macedonia after a group of refugees protesting at the nearby border crossing left the railway lines.
The refugees were protesting at Macedonia’s delay in letting them cross, on their way to wealthier central European countries where they plan to seek asylum. Their protest also disrupted the flow of refugees into Macedonia.
At least 10,000 people are camped at the Idomeni border crossing. Only a few are being let into Macedonia daily, as Macedonian authorities are pacing themselves with the rate of acceptance on their northern border with Serbia.
Greek police said 130 people were let in between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. local time Thursday.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says continued breaches of a Syria cease-fire by Russian and Syrian forces have rendered a truce there “vulnerable” and are not helping the refugee or migrant crisis.
At a joint news conference with European Union Council President Donald Tusk on Thursday, Davutoglu said the number of refugees crossing into Turkey would decrease if the cease-fire “is truly implemented.”
Davutoglu says Turkey remains committed to an agreement it reached with the EU in November on reducing the flow of irregular migration to Europe, saying “we are doing all that is necessary and will continue to do the necessary.”
Tusk said: “All parties must use their influence to give the cease-fire a chance to succeed.”
Hungary’s government says it will discuss next week the need to build a fence on the border with Romania to stop migrants.
Janos Lazar, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, said Thursday that the Cabinet would also consider sending more police and soldiers and strengthening the fences built last year on Hungary’s southern borders with Serbia and Croatia, which have mostly diverted the migrant flow.
Police statistics showed that 2,398 people were caught entering Hungary from Serbia in February, up from 553 in January.
Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said that among the migrants caught by police in the first two months of the year, 709 were from Pakistan, 488 from Morocco, 267 from Afghanistan and 203 from Algeria. Meanwhile, Syrians accounted for only 145 of the total and there were 164 Iraqis.
A top U.N. official on migration warns that 70,000 people are on pace to be “trapped” in Greece in coming weeks because Macedonia and some other European countries are shutting their borders to the flow of migrants and refugees into Europe.
Peter Sutherland says the “inevitable consequence” of closed borders throughout the Balkans “is that Greece increasingly becomes a camp for refugees and migrants.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for international migration noted that half of those arriving in Greece via the Turkish coast are Syrians, and about 70 percent of them come straight from Syria without stopping long in Turkey, which has already taken in 2.7 million Syrians.
Sutherland urged a better international response: “The issue for the global community is: Are we prepared to share responsibility, or not?”
European Council President Donald Tusk says it is up to Turkey to decide what further measures it can take to reduce the flow of migrants but says many in Europe favor a mechanism that would allow the “fast and large-scale” shipment of migrants back to Turkey.
At a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday, Tusk said such a mechanism would “effectively break the business model of the smugglers.”
He welcomed a series of Turkish efforts to curtail the tide of refugees crossing from Turkey to Greece but said the numbers are still too high.
In November, Turkey reached a deal with the EU under which it agreed to stem the flow of irregular migrants to Europe in return for a 3 billion euro ($3.26 billion) fund to help the country deal with the 3 million refugees — most of them Syrians — as well as sped-up EU membership talks and easing of visa restrictions for Turkish citizens.
The country is under pressure to reduce the numbers of migrants crossing into Greece as a March 7 summit meeting between Turkey and the EU to discuss the issue nears.
Tusk arrived in Ankara from Athens where earlier on Thursday he warned prospective economic migrants to not even think of setting off toward Europe.
He is scheduled to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday.
Greek officials say 31,573 refugees and migrants are stranded in the country, after authorities in neighboring Macedonia sharply restricted entry to people heading for central Europe.
Deputy Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas says most of the trapped migrants are on the Greek mainland, with about 7,000 still on the islands they reach in smugglers’ boats from Turkey.
Vitsas said that in the 24 hours to 8 a.m. local time Thursday, 2,122 migrants entered the country. Police say only a few hundred have crossed north into Macedonia.
Vitsas said Greece’s military, which has led frantic last-minute efforts to build a string of migrant camps, is handing out about 12,000 meals daily.
Immigration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas said Greece has space for 10,000 people in its shelters, and is creating another 15,000.
Authorities in Slovenia have revealed that three ancient statuettes were found last year in a transit camp for migrants from Syria and other war-ravaged countries.
Police in the northeastern city of Maribor said Thursday they have opened an investigation into last November’s discovery after experts confirmed the statuettes were genuine items dating back thousands of years.
Spokesman Miran Sadl says authorities are investigating “where these statuettes came from and who might have conducted a criminal act.”
Experts have said the alabaster statuettes originated from the ancient Mesopotamia region, which includes parts of modern day Syria and Iraq. The two countries’ rich cultural heritage has been damaged and plundered during years of conflict, with many items ending up on the black market.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants have passed through Slovenia on their way to Western Europe.
The European Union is considering plans to let some countries in Europe’s passport-free travel area tighten border controls until November if Greece can’t get migrant flows under control soon.
A draft document seen by The Associated Press on Thursday said the European Commission will make the move on May 12 “if the serious deficiencies in external border control were to persist.”
Destabilized by the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants, countries like Austria, Germany and Sweden have temporarily reintroduced ID checks. Denmark on Thursday renewed its checks for another month.
Germany wants to keep checks in place, but can’t do so beyond May 13 without permission from its EU partners.
The European Commission is setting November as “the target date for bringing to an end the exceptional safeguard measures.”
Some 100 mostly Iraqis and Syrians, nearly half of them children, remain stranded on the Serbian side of the border with Croatia which is refusing to take them in for various administrative reasons.
Mohammad Al-Aziz said half of his 10-member family managed to cross into Croatia, but he and the rest of the family has been stuck in a refugee center on the Serbian side of the border for the past 12 days.
He said he has made three attempts to cross into Croatia, but each time the Croats turned him back after seeing stamps in his Iraqi passports that show that he spent three months in Turkey on his way to Europe.
“They are saying that I’m not directly fleeing from the war in my country and that I should get back to Turkey,” Al-Azizi said. “Half of my family had the same stamps in their passports, but they let them in.”
“I will rather kill myself then turn back in the other direction.”
Others at the center in Sid said that they were turned back from the Croatian border because some data in the migrant documents issued on the Macedonian border with Greece did not match the data in their passports, such as misspelled or incomplete names or wrong birth dates.
“They make our life miserable,” said Mohammad Abdali from Raqa, Syria. “I’m not moving from here. If I survived Daesh, I’ll survive this as well,” he said using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State.
Austria’s foreign minister says it is “absurd” for migrants at Greece’s northern border to demonstrate to be let into Macedonia, a non-European Union nation.
Migrants have been massing in Greece since countries on the Balkan route restricted entry, responding to limits imposed by Austria.
Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that if people are demonstrating to be let into Macedonia, “it is not about the search for protection, but about the search for a better economic future. That is understandable in human terms, but we cannot offer this.”
Kurz said last year’s opening of borders was “a serious mistake” that prompted more migrants to set off.
Greece’s prime minister has called for sanctions to be imposed on European Union states that refuse to take in their share of the hundreds of thousands of refugees flowing into the continent through his country.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also demanded that the practically dormant procedure for relocating refugees stranded in Greece to other EU members should be drastically speeded up.
Speaking Thursday after a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk in Athens, Tsipras promised to provide “dignified” living conditions for the more than 25,000 migrants trapped in Greece after other countries further north along the migration route to Western Europe imposed sweeping entry restrictions.
But he insisted that the solution can only be temporary and Greece will accept only its fair share of permanently resettled refugees.
European Council President Donald Tusk is warning prospective economic migrants to not even think of setting off toward Europe.
Tusk says people who are looking for a better life but are not fleeing war should not risk their lives or their money paying smugglers to bring them to Europe.
“It is all for nothing,” he said. “Greece, or any other European country, will no longer be a transit country.”
Tusk was in Athens as part of a tour through countries worst affected by the continent’s immigration crisis. Later Thursday, he was to visit Turkey, from where the vast majority of the roughly 1 million migrants who entered Greece over the past 14 months crossed over in smuggling boats.
A group of migrants at Greece’s border with Macedonia have blocked a rail line in protest at Macedonia’s refusal to let them in to continue their route toward Western Europe.
The group lay down on the Greek side of the train track Thursday morning, preventing a freight train that had just crossed from Macedonia from continuing its journey south.
Some 10,000 people are blocked at the border. Macedonian authorities have said they will only let in as many people as the next country on the route, Serbia, takes. Greek police said that in the 24 hours to 6 a.m. Thursday, 500 people were allowed to cross.
Some of those who were allowed into Macedonia were then sent back by authorities there because of problems with their papers.