The Latest: Germany pleads for coordinated EU migrant action


BERLIN (AP) — The Latest on the migrant crisis in Europe (all times local):

4:35 p.m.

Germany’s interior minister says unilateral measures by one or several countries aren’t helpful as the European Union tries to stem the flow of migrants and find a coordinated approach.

Berlin is pinning its hopes on cooperation with Ankara to stop migrants crossing to Greece ahead of a March 7 EU summit with Turkey. Germany and Greece were left out of an Austrian-hosted meeting Wednesday of countries situated on the migrant route.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Thursday: “We know how difficult the situation is for all concerned, but unilateral national measures only divert the problems to others.”

De Maiziere said Germany wants to see progress on the Turkey-Greece border by March 7. If there isn’t any, he said countries should take unspecified “common, coordinated European measures.”

4:20 p.m.

Albanian police have stopped 12 Pakistanis who had illegally crossed the border from neighboring Greece.

Police spokesman Gentian Mullai said Thursday that the Pakistanis were found near the southernmost border crossing of Kakavie, 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of the capital Tirana.

He said they were kept there for a few hours of questioning before being sent back to Greece.

Mullai said in a statement that they had hoped to pass through Montenegro and that their final destination was Germany.

Albania has not been on the migrant route into Europe so far, and such crossings are very rare.

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3:30 p.m.

Hungary is increasing its production of razor wire, posts and other elements needed to build border fences meant to stop the flow of migrants.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs says that production is being sped up in case Hungary, which last year built fences on its borders with Serbia and Croatia, decides to also build a fence on the Romanian border, or if there is demand for the fence from other countries.

Last year, Hungary sold neighboring Slovenia 24,000 rolls of razor wire, 16,000 fence posts and 48,000 fasteners and also donated 100 kilometers (62 miles) of razor wire, a pile driver and other equipment to Macedonia.

Fence elements are manufactured in prison workshops. Inmates in Marianosztra, northern Hungary, produce around 100 rolls of razor wire a day.

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1:55 p.m.

Greece’s foreign ministry says it is recalling its ambassador to Austria back to Athens for consultations, a day after Austria held a meeting with officials from Balkan countries to discuss how to limit the numbers of migrants flowing into Europe, but excluded Greece.

Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias recalled the ambassador Thursday “in order to safeguard the friendly relations between the states and the people of Greece and Austria,” the ministry said in a statement.

Greece’s massive maritime border with Turkey and the close proximity of its islands to the Turkish coast have made it the main point of entry for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty at home and hoping for better lives in Europe.

The ministry said it was “clear that the big problems of the European Union cannot be dealt with, with thoughts, mentalities and extra-institutional initiatives that have their roots in the 19th century.”

It said such acts could “undermine the foundations and the process of European unification.”

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1 p.m.

The European Union’s head office says it fails to understand how Hungary’s call for a national referendum on the EU’s plan for each member to get a mandatory quota of resettled refugees could affect a decision that has already been made by all EU nations.

Observers feel the proposal is an attempt by Prime Minister Viktor Orban to establish himself as a leader of those opposed to the EU refugee scheme.

The EU plans to resettle 160,000 migrants who have arrived in overburdened Greece and Italy. But so far, barely 600 people have been relocated, and only some EU nations have offered places for them — fewer than 5,000 spots in all.

EU spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said EU Commission officials “fail to understand how it would fit into the decision-making process which was agreed to by all member states, including Hungary.”

She added “it appears the domestic debate on this issue is ongoing.”

12:10 p.m.

Police in northern Greece say 400 mostly Syrian migrants have walked out of a transit camp near Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, and are heading toward the country’s border with Macedonia.

Some 2,000 migrants were taken to the newly built camp on Wednesday as authorities scrambled to cope with delays at the border after Balkan countries imposed transit restrictions at the weekend.

But the 400 migrants from Syria and Iraq demanded to be allowed to leave on Thursday and began walking or seeking others means of transport to reach the border town of Idomeni, some 70 kilometers (45 miles) to the north.

Greece does not detain migrants from Syria, Iraq and several other countries considered eligible for asylum.

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11:45 a.m.

Demolition crews are set to move into a sprawling slum camp in Calais for thousands of migrants trying to get to Britain, as French authorities try to close an embarrassing and often shocking chapter in Europe’s migrant crisis.

Closing the camp — known as “the jungle” — would be the most dramatic step by the French state to end Calais’ yearslong migrant problem, which has transformed this port city into a high-security tension point, fueled far-right sentiment and defied British and French government efforts to make it go away. Critics contend that closing the camp may not solve the problem.

An eviction deadline Tuesday for the camp’s southern sector came and went, with migrants and humanitarian groups trying to stave off bulldozers via a legal complaint, a letter to the interior minister and public pleas.

A judge at the Administrative Court in Lille is likely to decide Thursday on a request by humanitarian groups to postpone the destruction.

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11:40 a.m.

German lawmakers have approved a package of measures meant to speed up the processing of migrants and cut the number of newcomers.

Parliament voted 429-147 on Thursday for the package, with four abstentions. It foresees special centers being set up to quickly process migrants who have little realistic chance of winning asylum and means that some — likely including some Syrians — will have to wait longer to bring relatives to Germany.

Germany registered nearly 1.1 million people as asylum seekers last year and officials are keen to ensure that the number is lower this year.

Lawmakers also approved plans to amend laws so even a suspended prison sentence would be grounds for deportation if someone is found guilty of certain crimes including bodily harm, sexual assault or violent theft.

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11:20 a.m.

France’s interior minister is criticizing Belgium for tightening border controls over concerns about a flood of migrants from a camp in France.

Belgium has sent up to 290 extra police officers to their common border after French authorities moved to close a migrant camp in Calais known as the jungle.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Thursday described Belgium’s move as “a strange decision.”

He says such decisions can be done through dialogue, “and we can do it by informing the country concerned beforehand, which was not the case.”

Cazeneuve described work at the camp as a “humanitarian action” aimed at providing real shelter for migrants who have applied for asylum in France. He rejected fears that hundreds of migrants would move into Belgium.

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11:10 a.m.

Thousands of people, mainly from Syria and Iraq, remain trapped at Greece’s northern border with Macedonia after the latter drastically reduced the number of people it was allowing to cross to a trickle.

About 2,800 people were waiting in a camp at the Idomeni border area Thursday, while another 800 people were about 17 kilometers (10 miles) away waiting at a roadside service station. Greek police said Macedonian authorities had allowed just 100 people to cross Thursday morning.

Further south, dozens of families, many with young children, determined to reach the border area began walking north along a highway in central Greece after being stuck on buses due to roadblocks by farmers protesting pension reform. Police were attempting to stop the group, leading the refugees to stage a sit-in on the highway.

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10:45 a.m.

Greece is maintaining its threat to take unilateral action if other EU nations take actions that would force Athens to shelter ever more migrants and refugees.

Deputy Interior Minister Ioannis Mouzalas criticized a meeting in Vienna where Austria and many of its southern neighbors along the Balkan route agreed to tighter border controls and warned that sooner or later they will have to shut their doors entirely.

The border closures would squeeze Greece in between the Balkan nations to the north and Turkey, from where most of the refugees come. With a full closure, Greece reception capacity could become overwhelmed in days.

Speaking before a meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels, Mouzalas said: “Greece will not accept unilateral actions. Greece, too, can take unilateral action.”

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9:40 a.m.

Germany’s Parliament is debating new measures meant to speed up the handling of migrants and cut their numbers, as well as legislation making it easier to deport foreigners who commit crimes.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet has already approved the package of measures and they aren’t expected to meet wide resistance in Thursday’s vote.

The plans involve using special centers to quickly process migrants who have little realistic chance of winning asylum.

They’ll also amend laws so even a suspended prison sentence would be grounds for deportation if someone is found guilty of certain crimes — including bodily harm, sexual assault, violent theft or serial shoplifting.

Those changes come after a spate of thefts and assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, blamed largely on foreigners.

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