EU increases pressure on Greece to secure border

Associated Press

GENEVA — The Latest on migrants seeking sanctuary in Europe (all times local):

6:15 p.m.

The European Union has ratcheted up pressure on Greece to start managing its borders properly or face the prospect of measures being imposed from Brussels.

The EU's executive Commission on yesterday adopted a report recommending measures to ensure that Greece checks all migrants against criminal databases and shelters them while they are processed.

An estimated 850,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2015, overwhelming the coast guard and reception facilities. Aid groups say cash-strapped Greece has shelter for only about 10,000 people, just over 1 percent of those who have entered.

The Commission said migrants who do not qualify for protection must be sent home more quickly and border surveillance stepped up, with new equipment and infrastructure put in place.

Greece has three months to comply. If not, the Commission could recommend that other EU states reintroduce border controls to protect Europe's passport-free travel area.


5:10 p.m.

Croatia's foreign minister says there is no wave of migrants entering his country from Montenegro but that Croatia would be ready to handle such a situation if it needed to.

Miro Kovacs said yesterday he wanted to clarify these facts to "exclude hysteria" from the ongoing discussion about Europe's migration crisis.

He said that the new, conservative Croatian government is coordinating with neighboring countries like Serbia, Slovenia and Hungary about the migrants, but that a common EU solution is also needed long-term.

Both Kovacs and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said they want to improve relations between the two countries, which reached a low point last year after Hungary built a fence on its borders with Serbia and Croatia to divert the migrants seeking to reach Germany and other richer destinations in the EU.

In October, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused Croatia's previous, left-wing government of supporting migration, saying that Hungary didn't "consider what the Croatian prime minister says to be the opinion of the Croatian people."


4:25 p.m.

Hungary's foreign minister says that terror threats will increase and public safety will deteriorate unless the European Union builds a "strong southern defense line" to stop the flow of migrants.

Peter Szijjarto said yesterday after a meeting with Croatian counterpart Miro Kovac that if the line of defense cannot be created at Greece's southern border, then it must come about at Greece's northern borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Szijjarto said Europe is "currently defenseless" because of the uncontrolled flow of migrants and that "we agree with all those who say the external borders must be fortified."

Hungary last year built fences on its southern borders with Serbia and Croatia, preventing migrants or refugees from entering the country from the Balkans after construction was completed by mid-October.


2:55 p.m.

The head of Germany's national railway is warning that cross-border train services could be scrapped if Europe's open-borders system collapses.

The Schengen system allowing passport check-free travel between many European countries has come under increasing strain in recent months. Several countries have imposed at least partial border checks in the face of the migrant influx, as they are allowed to do temporarily.

The chief executive of German railway operator Deutsche Bahn, Ruediger Grube, was quoted yesterday as telling the Bild daily: "The freedom of movement of the Schengen agreement is the basis of our international train service."

He added that "if borders are closed, the railway will have to discontinue connections to foreign countries. The checks and delays that would then be incurred would not be sustainable."


12:40 p.m.

The Turkish coast guard says two of the nine migrants who drowned off the Turkish coast while trying to cross into Greece were babies.

In a statement, the coast guard also said yesterday it had launched a search-and-rescue mission for more possible victims after a fibreglass boat carrying the migrants partially capsized some 25 meters (80 feet) off the coast near the town of Seferihisar.

Two migrants were rescued near the boat's wreckage while 11 others apparently managed to swim to shore.

The coast guard did not provide information on the migrants' nationalities.


11:40 a.m.

An international migration agency says 368 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean last month, nearly one in six of them children, as minors make up a growing percentage of those making the treacherous trip.

The International Organization for Migration says more than 62,000 people crossed the Aegean in January — over 90 percent of them from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq — and 272 died on that route. Another 5,000 people crossed the central Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman said 60 children younger than 18 were among those who died, bringing the total to 330 children who have died on the Mediterranean in the last five months.

Millman told reporters yesterday in Geneva that the proportion of unaccompanied minors has "grown enormously." Nearly 20,000 made the crossing last month, or about one-third of the total — up from a rate of about one in seven in 2015.


10:00 a.m.

A Turkish news agency says at least nine migrants — two of them children — have drowned in a new boat sinking accident off the Turkish coast.

The private Dogan news agency says the migrants drowned yesterday near the Aegean coastal town of Seferihisar, which is close to the Greek island of Samos. Two migrants were rescued while 11 others had apparently managed to reach the shore, the report said.

Officials could not immediately be reached for confirmation.

On Saturday, at least 37 migrants, among them several babies and children, drowned after their boat struck rocks and capsized while attempting the short sea journey from the town of Ayvacik, north of Seferihisar, to the island of Lesbos.












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