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1,000 migrants jostle to cross Macedonian border

28 August 2015, 18:16

Geneva — Here are the latest developments Friday regarding the tens of thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe.


2:30 p.m.

Scuffles and some fights are breaking out among the more than 1,000 migrants, including families with young children, gathered at Greece's northern border with Macedonia.

Macedonian authorities are allowing up to 50 people to cross at a time, with more arriving by the busload all day at the informal crossing outside the Greek village of Idomeni. Once in Macedonia, the migrants board trains or buses heading north to Serbia.

A Greek border policeman estimates about 1,000 people are crossing in an eight-hour period every day. The officer spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

About 300 of the migrants had arrived Thursday and spent the chilly night in the open, lighting small fires to keep warm. Aid organizations including Doctors Without Borders were providing medical help, shelter, food and water. Most were from Syria and Afghanistan.


2:10 p.m.

An administrative court in Dresden has rejected a blanket ban on public assembly in the town of Heidenau — leading German authorities to brace for possible far-right violence in the eastern state of Saxony this weekend.

Local authorities had imposed the ban to prevent a repeat of the neo-Nazi riots outside a refugee shelter last weekend in which dozens of police officers were injured.

Germany's Interior Ministry said Friday that federal police would now be sent to Heidenau to support local forces.

Most Germans have been welcoming toward the tens of thousands of refugees coming each month, but a far-right minority are strongly opposed to the influx. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was booed and heckled on Wednesday when she visited the targeted refugee center and urged tolerance for refugees.


1:55 p.m.

A Hungarian national police spokeswoman says four people are in custody in connection with the 71 migrants who suffocated to death in a refrigerated truck found parked on a main Austrian highway.

Police spokeswoman Viktoria Csiszer-Kovacs says Friday the four detained Thursday in Hungary include three Bulgarian citizens and one person from Afghanistan. One of the Bulgarians is the owner of the truck. Nearly 20 other people were questioned as witnesses and houses connected to the case were also searched.

Austrian police chief Hans Peter Doskozil says police believe the suspects are part of a larger Bulgarian-Hungarian smuggling ring. Two Hungarian police detectives are in Austria, helping with the case.


1:35 p.m.

Trying to cross the wide, rough Mediterranean Sea on an overcrowded smuggler's boat is a deadly risk, even in the warm summer weather.

The International Office of Migration has recorded 2,432 deaths linked to Mediterranean migrant crossings this year, but expects that figure to rise because Libyan authorities are still counting the dead from three shipwrecks off the Libyan coast in the last two days.

Authorities found 52 bodies in the hull of one boat off Libya on Wednesday, and U.N. officials say another 200 migrants are missing and feared dead after two other unseaworthy boats capsized Thursday off the western Libyan port of Zuwara.

Scores of smugglers' boats leave lawless Libya every day, packed with migrants trying to reach the safety of Europe.


1:20 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency says more than 300,000 migrants have sought to cross the Mediterranean Sea this year— nearly 40 percent more than the record number in all of last year.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva said Friday that 200,000 have landed in Greece alone. Greece's eastern islands have faced a nightly influx of hundreds of Syrian refugees making the short trip by boat or inflatable dinghy from Turkey.

The arrivals in Greece alone this year are close to the record number of 219,000 migrant and refugee crossings on all of the Mediterranean last year.


1:05 p.m.

In the wake of migrant deaths at sea and on land, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is urging authorities to crack down on the smuggling trade and to expand safe, legal ways for refugees to reach Europe.

Melissa Fleming, the spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency in Geneva, says Friday that the deaths of 71 migrants who were being smuggled into Austria in a refrigerated truck "is just absolutely shocking."

She says "we believe this underscores the ruthlessness of people smugglers who have expanded their business from the Mediterranean Sea to the highways of Europe. It shows they have absolutely no regard for human life."

Fleming also says the deaths show "the desperation of people seeking protection or a new life in Europe."


12:50 p.m.

Greece's coast guard says it has rescued 665 migrants at sea in 20 search-and-rescue operations off the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Agathonissi, Kos and Megisti in the 24 hours from Thursday morning to Friday morning.

The figures do not include the hundreds more who reach the islands' shores from the nearby Turkish coast each day, most of them using inflatable dinghies. The vast majority of those arriving in Greece are Syrian and Afghan refugees.

The migrants pouring into Greece are hoping to travel north via the Balkans and apply for asylum in wealthy European Union nations like Germany, Austria or Sweden. Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary have been overwhelmed this summer by the tens of thousands of migrants traveling through their countries.


12:40 p.m.

U.N. authorities say 100 people have been rescued off the coast of Libya amid a smuggling disaster at sea.

Othman Belbeisi, chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration for Libya, said Friday that the number rescued Thursday from two overcrowded smugglers' boats off the coast of Libya included nine women and two girls.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says an estimated 200 migrants are missing and feared dead after the two migrant boats capsized off Libya.

Belbeisi said 400 people had been packed onto one of the boats.

The bodies and the survivors were being brought back to the western Libyan city of Zuwara.


12:15 p.m.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says an estimated 200 migrants are missing and feared dead after two smuggling boats capsized off the coast of Libya.

The U.N. agency says Friday the Libyan Coast Guard conducted two rescue operations seven miles off the Libyan port city of Zuwara. Two boats carrying an approximate total of 500 migrants were intercepted Thursday and the survivors taken to shore in Libya.

An undetermined number of bodies were also recovered and taken to shore. An Associated Press photographer saw authorities Thursday night loading bodies in orange bags onto the back of a pickup truck.

Zuwara is in western Libya near the border with Tunisia.


11:55 a.m.

Authorities in the Libyan coastal city of Zuwara are collecting the bodies of migrants who drowned off the coast in their desperate quest to reach Europe.

An Associated Press photographer saw workers on Thursday night pulling out bodies floating in the water and loading other bodies in orange bags onto the back of a pickup truck. It was not clear how many migrants had drowned.

Dozens of barely seaworthy smugglers' boats packed with migrants are launched from lawless Libya each week, mainly heading to Italy. On Wednesday, authorities found the bodies of 52 migrants who had been trapped in the hull of one migrant boat north of Libya. Another 439 people from that boat were rescued.

Migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia are flooding into Europe this year in unprecedented numbers.


11:40 a.m.

Austrian police investigating the deaths of 71 migrants found in truck along a main highway say they likely suffocated to death.

Hans Peter Doskozil, chief of police in Austria's eastern Burgenland province where the tragedy occurred, gave both the death toll and the cause of death Friday at a news conference in the city of Einsenstadt.

He also said Hungarian police detained seven suspects in the case overnight and early Friday, then arrested three of them. He said two of the suspects are Bulgarians, while the third has Hungarian identity papers.

He said a Syrian travel document was found among the bodies, which suggests that at least some of the 59 men, eight women and four children who died were fleeing the violence in that nation.


11:30 am

Austrian police say three people have been arrested in connection with the deaths of 71 migrants found in a food struck on an Austrian highway.

The toll includes eight women and four children, one of them an infant.

The death toll and the arrests were announced at a news conference Friday, a day after the vehicle was found on the main highway between Vienna and Budapest, Hungary.

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- AP


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