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Flow of migrants into Austria from Hungary increases

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Roughly 10,700 migrants walked into Austria from Hungary on Sunday, more than arrived during all of Saturday, and a motorway passing through the border was partially closed, police spokesmen said.

Croatia, faced with growing crowds on its territory after Hungary barricaded its border with Serbia against migrants heading north, has been bringing people to its border with Hungary, which has been shuttling them to reception centers near Austria's eastern flank.

Roughly 10,700 migrants had arrived since midnight, a spokesman for the police in the eastern province of Burgenland said. Saturday's total was roughly 10,500.

Almost all of those arrivals were at the town of Nickelsdorf, which has generally been the main crossing point for migrants coming from Hungary. Buses and trains took many on to emergency accommodation elsewhere, and others took taxis, a Reuters witness said.

Another police spokesman said Vienna-bound lanes on the A4 motorway, which goes through the border near Nickelsdorf, were closed for security reasons, without elaborating. The police have previously closed lanes of that motorway because of migrants setting off for Vienna on foot.

A spokesman for motorists' group OeAMTC later said the lanes had reopened, but there were traffic jams.

In Styria, a southeastern province that borders Slovenia, 500 migrants entered the country on Sunday, a spokesman for the police in that province said.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Potter/Ruth Pitchford)
 

On a Balkan border: A Swedish chef and, perhaps, a foretaste of home

Publisher: Reuters
Author: BY IVANA SEKULARAC
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

HARMICA, CROATIA |
Swedish chef Henrik Johannessen prides himself on his mushroom risotto, but these days he's cooking potato stew, with a sprinkling of cumin, for the migrants queuing to enter Slovenia.

And it's not just the hot meals; for many migrants, the welcome is getting warmer the closer they get to their goal of western Europe.

"We cook a stew with chickpeas, potatoes, tomato and we put cumin in it because that's a flavor they're used to," said Johannessen, 33, who drove with seven friends from Sweden to the hilly village of Harmica on Croatia's border with Slovenia to offer help, their cars loaded with food.

From smugglers in Turkey, to stun grenades in Macedonia and a metal fence in Hungary, thousands of migrants streaming through the Balkans have had a torrid time crossing borders, many of them having fled war in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

They still face riot police and a long wait at the entrance to Slovenia, over a bridge spanning the River Sutla. But, while the Harmica border crossing has yet to face the full force of the migrant influx others in the region are struggling to cope with, the scene is a far cry from the hostility, squalor and chaos seen elsewhere.

Twenty-five years ago, there was no border at the Sutla: Slovenia was one of six Yugoslav republics, led for 35 years by Josip Broz Tito, who hailed from the Zagorje region of which Harmica is part.

Johannessen's food stall gives many a taste of the home they might make one day in Sweden, the second most popular destination for the migrants and refugees surging through Europe, most of whom want to reach Germany.

Slovenian police briefly fired pepper spray late on Friday as some in the crowd began pushing and shoving, egged on in part by a group of Slovenians who had arrived shouting "Welcome, refugees!"

Stung by some media coverage of the incident, the government of this sleepy, small and mountainous state, home to 2 million people, issued a statement saying the spray had been used by one officer against a single "protester".

ARMY MEALS

Earlier in the day, Dolores del Jesus, head of a local charity working with former drug addicts, had seen from her house the migrants emerging from a train, en route to the border.

So she gave them blankets and spoke to the local authorities to get tents, mattresses, toilets and garbage bins. Word spread via Facebook, and residents of Harmica and nearby villages collected diapers, toilet paper, candy, water and toys to amuse the children.

"We were thinking on Friday evening what to cook for dinner and then the guys from Sweden came," said del Jesus.

"We feel better that we are here actually doing something rather than watching the news," said Joakim, one of the seven friends accompanying Johannessen.

Slovenia has yet to face the kind of influx the likes of its less prosperous ex-Yugoslav peers Macedonia and Serbia are confronting, upwards of five, six or seven thousand every day. Some 2,000 have so far entered, in smalls groups periodically let through by police, while Croatia is sending many more north to Hungary.

Srecko Sestan, head of Slovenia's national Civil Protection, said the army had cooked just over 1,000 meals for migrants on Saturday. In Hungary, soldiers are busy building a fence along parts of its border with Croatia to keep them out, having successfully sealed off its southern frontier with Serbia.

Hungary has seen almost 200,000 pass through its territory, representing a threat, the government says, to the prosperity, identity and "Christian values" of Europe.

In Slovenia, Sandra Tusar, state secretary at the health ministry, said some 60 doctors and 30 nurses had volunteered for help and translators had been deployed to address any problems in communication.

While grateful for the support, some migrants said they just wished to continue their journey.

"People here are really nice, but we need to move on, to go to Germany," said a 35-year-old Syrian man from Damascus who gave his name as George. "We're grateful for the food, but I wish they would open the border."

(Additional reporting by Marja Novak in Ljubljana; writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Ralph Boulton)
 

A flood of migrants on a trail across Europe -- with no end in sight

Publisher: CNN Wire
Author: By Ivan Watson, CNN
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Editor's note: The migrant trail is improvised, illegal and constantly evolving. For two weeks, a CNN team followed the procession of migrants and refugees on the move from Turkey through the Balkans.

IZMIR, Turkey (CNN) – For many of the tens of thousands of people fleeing the Middle East, the migrant trail into Europe begins in the Turkish port city of Izmir.

In the city's bustling Basmane district, Syrians throng the cafes and three-star hotels, clutching backpacks and holding black garbage bags full of recently purchased life jackets.

Some of them have recently arrived in Turkey with their families from Syria, after catching flights or passenger ships from Lebanon.

The smugglers arranging passage from Turkey to Greece all seem to charge nearly the same prices: 1200 euros, or $1,300 US. Always cash, up front.

If it's a large family of eight or 10 people, that adds up to a lot of money.

But for the people who stood on the sidewalk in Izmir in front of travel agency offices, waiting anxiously to board buses to the coast, the gamble was clearly worth the risk.

"We don't have any other choice," said a Syrian man who had just arrived from Damascus with his wife and two children.

"If we go to Syria we die. If we stay here [in Turkey] we die. Homeless, no money. Everything we have is to go to Europe," the man explained in broken English, asking not to be identified for fear of reprisals against relatives remaining in Syria.

Another young man said he was fleeing conscription into the Syrian army.

"I don't want to fight with anyone. I don't want to kill. I don't want to get killed," he said, after also asking not to be identified for his family's safety.

Moments later, he and several other young men in their twenties climbed aboard buses that would take them to the sea.

An armada on the Aegean Sea

The costliest – and most dangerous leg of the journey – is the voyage across the Aegean Sea.

From some Turkish beaches, it is only five to 10 miles to reach several different islands in Greece.

Day and night, a virtual armada of inflatable rafts, dinghies and rubber boats sets out from strategic points along the Turkish coast aiming for Greek islands.

A night patrol with volunteers from the Bodrum Sea Rescue Association revealed the incredible risk many migrants are taking.

In choppy waters between the Turkish resort of Bodrum and the Greek island of Kos, a Turkish coast guard cutter lit up one tiny, overloaded raft after another with its spotlight.

In one dinghy, some of the more than 10 passengers on board the three-meter long craft were paddling with long oars as an electric motor sputtered in the back.

Children wailed from inside another slightly larger raft which was carrying more than 20 people. The boats were so over-loaded, they could have easily been swamped by a large wave.

In this stretch of sea near Bodrum, the Turkish coast guard stopped the rafts and rescued the passengers, bringing them back to Turkey.

But further west along the coast, the smuggling is far more brazen, and the Turkish coastal authorities do not have as much of an active presence.

From the regions of Assos and Ayvalik, traffickers launched larger, inflatable pontoon rafts with 40 to 70 passengers on board in broad daylight.

Secretly filmed footage of the launch of one of these overloaded boats shows a man who appears to be piloting the raft, suddenly abandoning ship. He leaps into the sea and swims back to shore.

The boat then circles several times, as some of the more than 40 passengers on board struggle to steer the overloaded vessel.

"We got lost in the sea," a 27-year-old Syrian named Yusuf Abudan recalled, days after completing his own harrowing Aegean crossing.

"The boat driver was from Afghanistan and he had no idea about the way [to Greece]," said Abudan's cousin, 26-year old Mukhis Msattat. "Some people were watching the GPS and told him the right direction."

"We don't recommend anybody to come by sea," Abudan concluded.

Over the last week, two separate deadly accidents in the Aegean Sea have led to the deaths of at least 56 migrants and refugees.

In one of those incidents, involving a wooden-hulled boat that capsized off the Greek island of Farmakonisi, 15 out of the 34 victims were children. Among them, four of those who drowned were infants.

Surreal beach scene on the Greek island of Lesbos

Over the span of half an hour one morning in September, CNN witnessed at least four inflatable boats landing on a long stretch of beach on the island of Lesbos.

As the boats hit shore, migrants and refugees spilled out onto the beach cheering and hugging each other. One man celebrated by hurling an inner tube he carried in case of an emergency out into the sea.

Children cavorted in the water. In a surreal scene, Greek municipal workers walked among the jubilant new arrivals, collecting the life jackets they discarded on the beach and placing them in a dumpster.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports some 50 migrant boats land on Lesbos each day, carrying from 1,000 to 3,000 immigrants.

Hundreds of orange life jackets and several punctured rubber rafts litter one beach beyond the island's airport.

Greek authorities register immigrants at a dusty stadium overlooking the town of Mitilini. Clutching new documents, the refugees and migrants then trudge down to the port where they can buy passage aboard large ferries bound for Athens.

According to the UNHCR, about 70% of the arrivals are Syrian refugees.

"It is Syria bleeding," said Alessandra Morelli, a veteran UNHCR coordinator.

"It's dangerous now in Syria," explained 19-year-old Kenan Albeni. He traveled to Lesbos with a group of six other young Syrian men from the Syrian town of Suweida, and they were hurrying to buy their tickets for the ferry to Athens.

"I can't continue my studies. I want to start my life. If I go to Germany, I will start my life from zero. I want to study, I want to get married maybe," the 19-year-old said.

Not far away, clusters of travelers from Afghanistan camped in a park next to the waterfront. Two Greek police marched into the park and warned several Afghans to extinguish a camp fire they lit beneath the trees.

"I can't take my children to the park any more, it's too dirty and crowded," complained a Greek hotel owner. But he also appeared to be catering to the visitors, with a sign scrawled in Arabic taped to the hotel's front window, advertising available rooms.

Barbed-wire border crossing

On the mainland of Europe, hundreds of miles northwest, Greek police escorted clusters of migrants and refugees down a dusty train track to an opening in a waist-high coil of barbed wire.

Macedonian soldiers in green uniforms then waved the travelers in.

"Thank you, thank you," a Syrian man said clasping his hands to his chest, as he walked into Macedonia.

"Cigarettes! Cigarettes!" yelled Macedonian vendors who followed immigrants down the trash-strewn dirt road that led to a nearby transit center in the town of Gevgelija.

"You can pay Turkish lira," a cigarette salesman added, offering transactions in Turkish currency.

Working alongside the UNHCR, the Macedonian government has turned this Balkan country into a transit corridor for migrants and refugees. They are encouraged to enter and leave to Serbia – the next country on the migrant trail – as swiftly as possible.

Ivo Kotevski, a spokesman for the Macedonian Interior Ministry, said of more than 70,000 immigrants who had arrived illegally since Jun 19, only 49 had applied for asylum to stay in Macedonia.

At the transit center, immigrants received documents allowing them 72 to hours to stay in the country to request asylum. At the same time, the Macedonian authorities quickly directed the new arrivals to nearby trains and buses which departed every hour for the northern border to Serbia.

Naim Nazari was an Afghan who had spent the last seven months living with his wife and toddler son in Greece. They lined up to buy train tickets, shortly after having crossed into Macedonia.

Asked where the family was going, Nazari appeared to be at a loss.

"I don't know," he said, sounding unconvinced. "Maybe Austria."

By the time hundreds of migrants and refugees boarded, many passengers were left standing in the aisles aboard a train bound for Serbia. Railroad workers charged passengers 25 euros per person. Only a week before, the price had been 10 euros.

When the graffiti-covered train rolled out from the transit center, some of the migrants celebrated. Their ululating Middle Eastern cheers echoed over the Balkan countryside.

Stopped in the Serbian town of Horgos

At the main border crossing from Serbia to Hungary, the mass migration across Europe suddenly hit a wall.

At midnight on September 15, Hungary announced new measures aimed at stopping the more than 140,000 migrants and refugees who had entered its territory throughout the crisis.

It shut the main crossing from Serbia, building a fence across the border terminal through which 600 cargo trucks a day had once passed.

By the evening of Wednesday September 19, about a hundred young men clustered around the new fence, banging against the barrier and chanting "let us in."

Far more of the travelers pitched tents on the fields and stretch of highway around the fence. For many, it was the first time they had stopped moving in days.

At sunset, a Serbian municipal worker moved among the migrants, trying to sweep up discarded plastic bottles and garbage quickly being scattered around the area. A lone volunteer, a Syrian man with a gray ponytail and silver earring worked alongside the Serb.

The man's name was Wael Noor. He was a musician from Suweida who said he had been forced to flee to Turkey several years ago, after he participated in protests against the Syrian government.

Hungary's decision to close the border now left him in limbo.

"I have to wait. No choice," Noor said, hoping perhaps for the Hungarian government to change its policy.

"There's no choice to go back to Syria," he said, adding that he was wanted by Syrian authorities.

Noor's plan had been to reach Germany or the Netherlands, and to arrange later for the immigration of his wife and daughter from Syria. He refused to bring them on the migrant trail, saying it would have been far too difficult and dangerous for a child.

That night, Noor fell fast asleep on the pavement, huddled in a white windbreaker. He used a piece of cardboard for a mattress.

One border closes, another opens

A day after Hungary closed its border, another European country announced it was opening its doors to the travelers.

The government of Croatia declared migrants and refugees would be welcome. It only took a matter of hours before the first travelers began exploring this newly-opened corridor.

They took buses and taxis to Serbia's Western border, where they disembarked less than a mile from the formal border crossing.

Then groups of migrants hiked through cornfields in the direction of Croatia.

There is no fence separating Croatia from Serbia, just a dirt road straddled on both sides by fields of corn and turnips.

Blue-uniformed Croatian police officers stood here waiting as a half dozen young Iraqis from the southern Iraqi port city of Basra trudged in their direction.

The travelers hesitated momentarily upon seeing the police.

"Come on guys, don't be scared," a Croatian police officer said, beckoning the Iraqis to enter his country. The young Arabs were then invited into the back of police vans that drove them to a registration center established near the border.

Among the new arrivals waiting for a ride in a police van was a trio of young Syrian men from Aleppo, who had been living as refugees in Istanbul for nearly a year.

"We are following the people," explained Muhammad Msattat, a 29-year-old fluent English speaker.

Msattat, his younger brother and cousin said they were all "on an adventure," trying to reach central Europe to continue their university studies. They said they understood why some Europeans were opposed to allowing in more migrants.

"They are afraid the refugees will come more and more and more and more and it will be very difficult for them to control it," said Msattat's younger brother Mukhis.

But by nightfall on Wednesday, the trickle of migrants trudging through the cornfields swelled to a constant stream. More and more buses from the Serbian capital arrived, disgorging scores of migrants and refugees.

The next morning, the once-pristine fields of corn were now littered with garbage.

Meanwhile, the Croatian police had stopped sending vans to drive migrants and refugees to the transit center. Instead, they told new arrivals to hike several more kilometers to a train station in the small Croatian border town of Tovarnik.

It quickly became apparent that on Thursday, less than 36 hours after opening the border, the flood of migrants had overwhelmed the Croatian authorities.

At Tovarnik's train station, mass hysteria set in among some of the more than 5,000 migrants and refugees who gathered next to the train tracks.

Hundreds of screaming people heaved against a barrier manned by Croatian riot police. The officers struggled to pull free sobbing women and wailing children who were being crushed by the crowd. Every few minutes, a migrant would scramble under a nearby fence and make a run towards a staging ground where officials were organizing buses to transport migrants deeper into Croatia.

An Arabic-speaking female translator armed with a loudspeaker tried in vain to calm the crowd down.

'Where do we go now?'

Suddenly, the police lines broke. Hundreds of people surged forward, trampling barriers and fences and rushing deeper into Croatian territory.

The Croatian riot police could do little more than watch. An English-speaking migrant turned to a Croatian police officer and asked, "Where do we go now?"

The officer shrugged his shoulders.

"The Croatian government, I believe, was taken a bit by surprise by the numbers," said Terence Pike, the head of the UNHCR office in Croatia.

"The people lacked information," Pike explained. "Without that information, they became frustrated. It was extremely hot. ... They broke loose."

Pike said the government had been prepared to welcome around 500 immigrants a day. Instead, more than 7,000 people entered in less than 36 hours. By the weekend, the number had swelled to more than 11,000 and the Croatian government debated whether to close its borders.

But at earlier stages in the migrant trail, there are many thousands of additional migrants and refugees who are en route in this direction. Immigrants still clamber aboard rafts to reach the Greek islands that have become a back door into Europe.

Meanwhile, months into the migrant crisis, European governments are still struggling, clearly unable to figure out what to do with all these
 

East European leaders in war of words as migrants pour across borders

Publisher: Reuters
Author: SASA KAVIC AND IVANA SEKULARAC
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

BELI MANASTIR/HARMICA, CROATIA |

Hungary and Croatia traded threats on Saturday as thousands of exhausted migrants poured over their borders, deepening the disarray in Europe over how to handle the tide of humanity.

More than 20,000 migrants, many of them refugees from the Syrian war, have trekked into Croatia since Tuesday, when Hungary used a metal fence, tear gas and water cannon on its southern border with Serbia to bar their route into the European Union.

EU leaders, deeply divided, are due to meet on Wednesday in a fresh attempt to agree on how and where to distribute 160,000 refugees among their countries, but the noises from some of the newer members of the bloc were far from friendly.

Hungary, where the right-wing government of Viktor Orban has vowed to defend "Christian Europe" against the mainly Muslim migrants, accused Croatia of "violating Hungary's sovereignty" by sending buses and trains packed with migrants over their joint border. It warned it might block Zagreb's accession to Europe's Schengen zone of passport-free travel.

"Croatia's government has continuously lied in the face of Hungarians, Croatians, of the EU and its citizens," Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told a news conference. "What kind of European solidarity is this?"

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said that, unlike Hungary, he would not use "brute force" to keep people out, nor would his government make them stay against their will. The buses and trains would keep running to Hungary, he said.

"We forced them (to accept the migrants), by sending people up there. And we'll keep doing it," he told reporters.

DEATHS AT SEA

Croatia, a country of 4.4 million people forged as an independent state in a 1991-95 war, has suddenly found itself in the way of the largest migration of people westwards since World War Two. On Friday, Milanovic said the country could not cope, and would simply wave the migrants on.

Almost 500,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, increasingly across the water from Turkey to Greece and then up through the impoverished Balkans to the former Yugoslavia, of which Croatia and Slovenia are members of the EU.

Many are rushing to beat rougher seas; on Saturday, a girl believed to be five years old died and 13 other migrants were feared drowned when their boat sank off the island of Lesbos.

A second, exhausted group of around 40 people reached the inundated island in a tiny dinghy following a traumatic journey from Turkey, having paddled through the night with their hands across 10 km six miles) of sea when their engine failed.

"When we were on the sea ... I didn't have any hope ... I said: I am dead right now, nobody can help me," 18-year-old Mohammed Reza said after being helped ashore by foreign volunteers.

Nearly 4,700 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya on Saturday as they tried to reach Europe but one woman was found dead on board a boat, Italy's coastguard said.

July and August alone brought 150,000 migrants to Greek shores, about as many as the EU says it is planning to accommodate if it can overcome the opposition of many newer members of the bloc in ex-Communist eastern Europe to the quotas Germany and others in northern and western Europe are calling for.

The vast majority of refugees want to reach Germany, which has said it expects to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year.

They kept coming on Saturday, crammed onto bus and train having crossed into Croatia from Serbia and driven north and west toward Hungary and Slovenia. Many spent the night under open skies, and the day searching for shade from a scorching late summer sun.

Hungary said some 8,000 had arrived from Croatia on Friday, with more on their way. Most were sent to reception centers near Hungary's border with Austria, which in turn said about 7,500 had entered since midnight, with more to follow.

SYRIAN WAR

Hungarian soldiers are racing to build a fence along the Croatian frontier like the one erected the length of its border with Serbia. The government said on Saturday it had called up some army reservists, mostly to staff garrisons left empty by soldiers deployed to the border.

"If Croatia puts up its hands and says, no, I don't want to defend the borders, then Hungary can only say that it isn't ready to join Schengen when the moment comes to decide," Antal Rogan, an adviser to Orban, told InfoRadio news station.

Crowds were building too on Croatia's border with Slovenia, which like Hungary is a member of the Schengen zone. Police were rationing entry to small groups, mainly families, and Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar suggested he may have to discuss with neighboring states the creation of a "corridor" to allow their passage through the tiny country of 2 million people. Some 2,000 had entered by Saturday.

"I feel frustrated, we're so tired," said Siha, 35, from Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, parts of which have been reduced to rubble by the four-year-old war. She held close her two young children on a bridge in no-man's-land at the Harmica border crossing into Slovenia.

"We left Turkey 10 days ago. The trip was very dangerous for the kids. I decided to leave Syria because I want my kids to have a comfortable life, to study," she said.

An estimated three million Syrians have fled the war and many more are displaced inside their country, feeding the tide to western Europe. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was an urgent need to renew efforts to find a political solution to the war and the worsening refugee crisis.

"We need to get to the negotiation. That is what we're looking for and we hope Russia and Iran, and any other countries with influence, will help to bring about that, because that's what is preventing this crisis from ending," Kerry said after talks in London with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

The United States has taken in 1,500 refugees since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, and President Barack Obama last week committed to accepting 10,000 more over the coming year.

Anne Richard, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said on Saturday she would like to see a steep increase in numbers in 2017.

The government of Iceland, with a population of only 330,000, said it planned to spend 2 billion Icelandic crowns ($15.9 million) this year and next on aid to people fleeing the Syrian crisis. Iceland would take about 100 refugees this year.

(Reporting by Maja Zuvela in Tovarnik, Croatia, Thomas Escritt in Budapest, Igor Ilic in Zagreb, Marja Novak in Ljubljana, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Marina Depetris in Lesbos; Writing by Tom Heneghan and Matt Robinson; Editing by Andrew Roche)
 

Refugee crisis to test EU at summit of divided leaders

Publisher: Reuters
Author: BY JULIA FIORETTI AND GERNOT HELLER
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

BRUSSELS/ LEIPZIG, GERMANY |

Bitterly-divided European leaders will seek to find a credible response to the continent's worst migration crisis since World War Two at an emergency summit this week.

German chancellor Angela Merkel called on her peers on Sunday to accept joint responsibility.

"Germany is willing to help. But it is not just a German challenge, but one for all of Europe," Merkel told a gathering of trade unionists. "Europe must act together and take on responsibility. Germany can't shoulder this task alone."

Striking a more skeptical tone on migration than in previous weeks, Merkel also warned that Germany could not shelter those who were moving for economic reasons rather than to flee war or persecution.

"We are a big country. We are a strong country. But to make out as if we alone can solve all the social problems of the world would not be realistic," she told a gathering of the Verdi trade union.

European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs European Union summits, said on Twitter on Sunday following a weekend visit to Jordan and Egypt that the EU needed to help Syrian refugees find a better life closer at home.

That will be one of the topics of discussion for Wednesday's summit in Brussels as hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants brave the seas and trek across the impoverished Balkan peninsula to reach more affluent countries in northern Europe.

The 28-member bloc has struggled to find a unified response to the crisis, which has tested many of its newer members in the East that are unaccustomed to large-scale immigration.

On Sunday Hungary erected a steel gate and fence posts at a border crossing with Croatia, the EU's newest member state. Overwhelmed by an influx of some 25,000 migrants this week, Croatia has been sending them north by bus and train to Hungary, which has waved them on to Austria.

Around 10,700 migrants walked into Austria from Hungary on Sunday, some 200 more than on Saturday.

The influx of migrants, most of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, has led to bitter recriminations between European governments while the temporary closure of national borders has undermined one of the most tangible achievements of the Union.

"If you don't cope with this crisis, then I think the EU will fall apart," said a senior EU official.

The official said European leaders would discuss longer-term strategies for dealing with the crisis, particularly increasing cooperation with Turkey and the countries bordering Syria to keep the millions of refugees at home. Tusk said more aid to the World Food Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would also be on the agenda.

Beefing up the EU's asylum agency, Frontex, into a full border and coastguard agency, and working on hotspots and a list of "safe countries" whose citizens would not normally qualify for asylum, would also be up for discussion, the official said.

CEMENTING PEACE

On Saturday, German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the EU needed to provide 1.5 billion euros ($1.70 billion) to the two agencies to address funding shortfalls.

The EU prides itself on cementing peace among countries that until World War Two fought bloody battles and fostering prosperity by removing internal barriers among its member states through the so-called Schengen agreement.

But the more than 500,000 people crossing the Mediterranean into Europe this year alone and Hungary's use of water cannon and razor wire on its border with Serbia have seen the EU's ambitions to act as one fall short.

The picture of a dead toddler washed up on a beach in Turkey sent shockwaves around the continent. On Sunday 13 migrants, including six children, were killed as their boat was wrecked in Turkish waters.

"The (Schengen) agreements are now part of our daily lives and it is unthinkable that the facilities enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of travelers and cross-border workers in Europe are challenged by nationalist and reactionary thoughts and political actions," said Jean Asselborn, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs for Luxembourg.

As the holder of the rotating presidency of the EU, Luxembourg is working to broker a compromise that can break the deadlock between member states on sharing the burden of the crisis.

EU interior ministers, meeting on Tuesday, are expected to agree on a voluntary relocation scheme to redistribute 160,000 refugees from frontline states across the EU, a fraction of the total entering Europe.

French President Francois Hollande said he wanted the interior ministers to address the most difficult aspects of the migration crisis by Tuesday so that EU leaders could focus exclusively on financing at Wednesday's summit.

"I really wish all these issues to be solved by the ministers' reunion," Hollande said on Sunday during a state visit to Morocco.

EU ambassadors met on Sunday to try to hammer out compromises ahead of Tuesday's meeting but several issues still needed to be solved and work would continue until then, said a spokeswoman for the EU presidency.

Germany's Gabriel warned that the country could be overwhelmed by the 800,000 refugees and asylum seekers it expects to receive this year. Most of the migrants hope to reach prosperous Germany or Sweden.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday the United States would take in 15,000 more refugees from around the world next year, increasing the current level to 85,000, and to 100,000 in 2017.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald, Paul Taylor, Francois Murphy in Vienna; Lesley Wroughton in Berlin and John O'Donnell in Frankfurt; Editing by Andrew Roche and Kavita Chandran)
 

Anger, confusion as Europeans shut borders to migrants; 'The crisis is growing and being pushed from one country to another'

Publisher: AP, Associated Press
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Across southeast Europe, nations closed borders, blocked bridges, shut down trains and built new razor-wire fences Friday in a rush to block tens of thousands seeking safety in Western Europe from crossing their territories.

The rapid-fire, often contradictory border decisions came as each nation tried to shift the burden of handling the huge influx onto their neighbours, leaving migrants even more angry, confused and desperate.

Croatia declared it was overwhelmed and began busing migrants in convoys back to Hungary and closing border crossings with Serbia.

Slovenia shut down rail service to Croatia and was sending migrants back there, while Hungary began building yet another new razorwire border fence, this time on its Croatian border.

With more than 14,000 migrants arriving in just two days, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic declared that his nation of 4.2 million could no longer cope and asylum seekers could not stay.

"What else can we do?" Milanovic said at a news conference. "You are welcome in Croatia and you can pass through Croatia. But go on. Not because we don't like you, but because this is not your final destination."

Nineteen Croatian buses carried migrants across the border Friday to Beremend, Hungary, where they were put on Hungarian buses. Hungarian police said the people were being taken to registration points.

Huge numbers surged into Croatia since Wednesday, after Hungary erected a barbed wire fence on its border with Serbia and took other tough measures to stop migrants, including spraying crowds at the border with tear gas and water cannons and arresting hundreds trying to cross the border illegally.

Croatia represents a longer and more difficult route to the wealthier nations of the European Union, but those fleeing violence in their homelands, such as Syrians and Iraqis, had little choice.

Croatia closed seven of its eight border crossings with Serbia after chaotic scenes at the border Thursday where dozens of migrants were trampled in the rush to get a seat on a bus or train.

Milanovic, the Croatian leader, appealed Friday to the European Union to step in and help.

"We have a heart but we also have a brain," he said.

Most migrants don't want to stay in Croatia. Just one woman with children has requested asylum in Croatia since the influx started, its foreign minister said.

The UN refugee agency warned Friday of a "buildup" of migrants in Serbia as its neighbours tightened their borders.

"The crisis is growing and being pushed from one country to another," said Adrian Edwards of UNHCR. "You aren't going to solve these problems by closing borders."

The human misery was evident in Croatian towns like Beli Manastir, near the border with Hungary. Migrants slept on streets, on train tracks and at a local gas station. People scrambled to board local buses without knowing where they were going.

Hundreds of others were stranded Friday on a large Danube River bridge in the Serbian town of Bezdan after Croatian authorities closed all but one border crossing. A large truck lifted barriers onto the bridge.

The group, which included many women and children, stood in a no man's land in the middle of the tall bridge in the scorching heat with little water or food.

"We came here last night when they said 'Wait here for a while' and then they brought in police cars to block the bridge," Said Ahmed Ali from the embattled Damascus neighbourhood of Yarmouk, holding a baby girl in his arms.

He said part of his family managed to cross the bridge and enter Croatia, while the rest were stranded on the bridge.
 

EU set for decisive week in response to divisive migration crisis

Publisher: dpa International Service in English
Author: By Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl, dpa
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

For months, the European Union has tried to get the refugee crisis under control. But migrants continue arriving by the thousands and disagreements about the response keep festering. Can EU leaders and interior ministers finally deliver a credible plan?

Brussels (dpa) – As a summer of relentless migrant arrivals and rising acrimony comes to an end, the European Union is headed for a pivotal week in the struggle to get a handle on its refugee crisis.

EU interior ministers will Tuesday attempt to thrash out a compromise on a plan to redistribute 120,000 asylum seekers who have arrived in Europe. A day later, EU leaders will convene for a crisis summit to tackle broader migration concerns.

"This issue, left unresolved, will undoubtedly lead to human suffering for the refugees, to political turmoil in our member states ... and to tensions which Europe cannot afford to have," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans has warned.

"The crisis we are all witnessing is a test of our humanity and responsibility," EU President Donald Tusk wrote in his invitation letter to the leaders. "It is essential to establish a credible European migration policy."

The continent is dealing with its most significant influx of migrants and asylum seekers since World War II, many of them fleeing conflict-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan.

Almost 450,000 people have reached Europe by sea this year, while more than 2,900 have died trying, according to UN estimates.

EU rules requiring asylum applications to be filed in the first country of arrival have all but been discarded by overwhelmed frontline member states.

Some have resorted to border controls in their effort to stem the flow of refugees – a startling sight in a bloc where freedom of movement is one of its most cherished rights.

The principle of solidarity is also at the core of the EU, and yet proposals for everyone to take in their fair share of asylum seekers have left member states at each other's throats.

Tusk hopes to refocus the discussion at the summit on the EU's overall approach to the crisis. He would like leaders to talk about help for frontline member states, support for other affected countries and aid to humanitarian organizations.

"No country can face this crisis alone," French President Francois Hollande recently said.

But the effort to recentre the bloc's response may stumble on a bitter debate about refugee redistribution.

Central and Eastern European countries have been resisting the effort to share asylum seekers across the EU, because they do not believe that they should be told how many refugees they can handle. They also argue that the approach cannot work because asylum seekers will not want to stay in their assigned countries.

"Provided we agree on the quotas, will we be dispatching the refugees like 'camp inmates' in trains to countries where they do not want to be and where nobody wants them just because we 'democratically coordinated' this as Europeans?" the Slovenian daily newspaper Delo asked on Saturday.

The commission, the EU's executive, has been insisting on a mandatory redistribution scheme – with a set contingent of asylum seekers assigned to different member states – after an initial voluntary effort fell short.

But the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have jointly declared such binding quotas "unacceptable." Latvia and Lithuania have also resisted.

"We insist that it has to be a voluntary process," Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma said.

Pressure is mounting for the holdouts to be overruled with a majority vote on the redistribution of the 120,000 asylum seekers. But there are fears that such a move would drive a wedge between EU countries. The interior ministers will have to decide how to proceed on Tuesday.

Hungary has taken the toughest stance, led by its right-wing nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban.

He will come face-to-face with his EU counterparts on Wednesday for the first time since fencing off and brutally closing down Hungary's borders, deploying tear gas against refugees and forcing their flow onto his neighbours.

So far, Budapest has steadfastly held its ground, and whether other EU leaders can get Orban to be more receptive remains to be seen.

"We will ... need to discuss our responsibilities at a national level. No one should shy away from them," Tusk said in his summit invitation letter. "Shifting the responsibility and putting the blame on one another must definitely come to an end."
 

Merkel tells Europe: Germany can't cope with migrants alone

Publisher: Reuters
Author: BY GERNOT HELLER
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Europe must share responsibility for coping with mass migration, Germany's chancellor said on Sunday, cautioning that her country could not shelter those who moved solely for economic reasons.

"Germany is willing to help. But it is not just a German challenge, but one for all of Europe," Angela Merkel told a gathering of trade unionists. "Europe must act together and take on responsibility. Germany can't shoulder this task alone."

Striking a more skeptical tone on migration than in previous weeks, Merkel also warned that Germany could not shelter those who were moving for economic reasons rather than to flee war or persecution.

"We are a big country. We are a strong country. But to make out as if we alone can solve all the social problems of the world would not be realistic," she told a gathering of the Verdi trade union.

"We want to offer shelter to those who need it but we have to say to those who come for other reasons, for economic reasons, that they do not have a perspective of staying," she said.

The comments came as Hungary and Croatia traded threats as thousands of migrants poured over their borders, deepening the disarray in Europe over how to handle the crisis.

A proposal being argued over ahead of a meeting of European Union interior ministers on Tuesday would, if agreed, relocate 120,000 asylum seekers over the next two years around the whole bloc.

Bitterly-divided European leaders will then seek to find a credible response to the worst migration crisis affecting the continent since World War Two, at an emergency summit on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Gernot Heller; writing by John O'Donnell; editing by Andrew Roche)
 

Planned German migration center hit by arson attack

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

FRANKFURT
Police in Germany said on Sunday there had been an arson attack on a planned accommodation center for migrants in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the latest sign of tension as migrants flow to the country.

Police in the city of Heilbronn said no-one had been in the sports hall in nearby Wertheim at the time of the attack and it was not possible to enter the building because of fire damage.

The attack came as a senior member of parliament in Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), spoke out in favor of tighter rules on granting asylum.

"Those who are not in danger should leave Germany as quickly as possible," Gerda Hasselfeldt told the Welt newspaper.

"We have to set clear priorities. We need our energy and resources for those who are fleeing war and persecution."

The comments came as Hungary and Croatia traded threats as thousands of migrants poured over their borders, deepening the disarray in Europe over how to handle the crisis.

A proposal being argued over ahead of a meeting of European Union interior ministers on Tuesday would, if agreed, relocate 120,000 asylum seekers over the next two years around the whole bloc.

The number of migrants entering Germany, which recently reimposed border controls, was lower on Saturday, with 1,710 people registered, than on Friday, when the number was 1,985, police said.

(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; writing by John O'Donnell; Editing by Mark Potter)
 

Refugee journey: Reunited at last, a long way from home

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Ihab steps off the train at Luebeck station and, seeing his family on the platform, breaks into a run.

"Umi, Umi!" he shouts – Mum! – and hugs his mother and father, his brother and sisters and their children, who have all come to meet Ihab, his wife Abeer and their two daughters.

Ihab's parents and other family members found sanctuary in Luebeck some time ago, but have always longed for Ihab to join them. On the station platform, they cry with joy.

The young Syrian family have completed their week-long trek across Europe, from a Greek Mediterranean island to Germany's Baltic coast.

They have crossed a continent to find a new home, safe from the barrel bombs, artillery shells and poison gas attacks which have killed many thousands of civilians during four years of civil war in their country.

They first sought refuge in Lebanon, one of Syria's neighbors, although millions of Syrians are scattered between Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

In late August, the family set out for Europe, taking a ferry to Turkey before paying people traffickers for the short but dangerous trip by boat to the Greek island of Lesbos, where I first met them.

From there, I joined them on the long way north to Luebeck, 2,000 km (1,200 miles) as the crow flies – but many more on the winding trail of the refugee.

Every stage of the journey, by bus, by boat and by train, took them further from their home in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, on the banks of the Euphrates river.

Watching them at the station in Luebeck, I remember the words of Ihab's six-year-old daughter Yasmine on the train heading north: "My country is the best in the world. I will go back, when the war ends".

(Reporting by Zohra Bensemra; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Clelia Oziel)
 

'Kos desperately needs a refugee camp'

Publisher: Deutsche Welle
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Tragedy has struck again in the Aegean Sea, with dozens more dying this weekend in the attempt to reach Greek islands. But for those who reach the islands, the adversity – and the journey – certainly doesn't end there.

Sunday's feared accidents in the Aegean Sea come after a week in which dozens more people drowned trying to reach Greek islands from Turkey. Valerie Stahl von Stromberg is a German photographer, who, for months, has been helping refugees on Kos.

DW: What do the refugees do when they arrive in Kos?

Valerie Stahl von Stromberg: Usually the procedure of arrival happens quite quickly. People get off the boat, gather their things, and the refugees start making their way walking around the coast – not really knowing what they're doing or what's going to come next.

Around four out of every 10 refugees have just enough money to stay in cheap hotels that cost around 16 euros per night. But all the others that don't have the financial capabilities end up camping on the streets – on cardboard boxes, under trees, anywhere where they can sleep.

Do they have food?

Neither the government, nor any international aid organization is handing out food. This means that the local government does not want to give out food, and the international agencies and organizations – such as the UNHCR – aren't allowed to give out food. And they're not even allowed to set up a camp here.

How have the people living on Kos reacted to the surge in migrant arrivals?

It's pretty much 50-50 at the moment, and the attitudes are heavily influenced by the mayor's reaction to the refugees. The people who follow the mayor haven't been informed about the benefits of showing solidarity to the refugees. The mayor has taken a stance against the people who are arriving on the island. He's not letting them stay – he's not building them a camp – he's not giving them food – he's not giving them anything. The only thing he's done was to connect four toilets that are placed in the city, but those toilets have already been disconnected.

And the people who live here on the mayor's side are very confused with regard to how to react to the refugees. They feel that they should be very reluctant when it comes to giving anything to them, especially the migrants who are not from Syria.

How many refugees are on the island right now?

This week there were around 2,000 refugees on the island.

We understand that you are trying to help them get by. Can you tell us more about that?

We started everything in May, giving out clothes and diapers and baby food and pita bread and tomatoes, and we increased the amount every week. Back then there were 6,000 refugees. Until now, no other organization apart from ours is giving out warm meals.

It is very important to figure out what these people really need. The island gets bombarded with clothes that they simply don't need. There are hundreds of kilos of clothes that have been given, and they end up in the garbage.

What these people really need right now is jackets, shoes and warm food. You have to focus on what is actually needed, and it's only possible to work as an aid organization if you are there.

Do the refugees want to stay on the island?

Nobody wants to stay here. Nobody. They need 54 euros to buy a ticket to Athens. And right now there are about 600 people stuck on the island.

How do they survive?

From our food – and from the food that other local aid groups provide for them.

How many people have you helped so far?

Well, right now we give warm meals to about 1,000 people every day. And we have special cases where we see that they've been here for many days and aren't able to get a boat ticket to Athens. We also talk with them and try to provide psychological help.

Where are you getting the money for this?

From donations – primarily from Europe. We have a Facebook account and we also have a website with a paypal link.

For me, it's a mystery why nobody is more politically involved on a European basis in Kos. But it seems like the local bureaucracy doesn't allow it.

What do you mean by that?

It seems like the local political level has more power than the EU political level. The mayor simply is not allowing the UNHCR to build a refugee camp.

Have you been able to talk to the mayor?

Yes.

What did he say?

He asked me if I would like a mango juice.

A mango juice?

Well, we spoke, but he evaded all of our questions.

Valerie, what do you think is going to happen to all the people stuck on Kos right now?

It seems like now as the registration procedures have been sped up, with more support arriving from Athens in the form of registration police, it seems like more people are leaving the island than there are people arriving. But we spoke to the Coast Guard this week, and they said that religious festivities in Turkey have put the traffic on hold. There will be more people coming.

With the cold soon to set in, the problems will become much bigger. Realistically, there needs to be a camp set up here. Because there will always be around 400 people on the island – in the future.

Valerie Stahl von Stromberg is a German photographer who has been on the island of Kos for the past five months providing assistance to refugees. Her NGO can be reached at: kosrefugeesneedyourhelp.com.
 

Med boat accident kills Syrian girl, 4

Publisher: The Sunday Times
Author: Louise Callaghan
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

A FOUR-YEAR-OLD Syrian girl became the latest casualty of Europe's refugee crisis yesterday when she drowned in the Aegean after the inflatable boat she was travelling on sank off the Greek island of Lesbos.

Members of the Greek coastguard found the child, named locally as Hanan al-Jarwan, unconscious.

She died in hospital a short time afterwards. A photo of Hanan posted on local news sites showed her body, still dressed in a colourful jumper, lying on a beach.

Hanan and her family are thought to have fled their home in al-Salihiyah, a small town in eastern Syria under Isis control, in the hope of a better life in Europe.

The pictures were reminiscent of the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the threeyear-old boy washed up on a beach in Bodrun earlier this month, which provoked horror and sympathy across the world and a promoted a change in the migrant policy of several governments.

Out of the 24 people on the boat trying to reach Lesbos, 13 are still missing, feared drowned.

Nikos Lagkadianos, a spokesman for the Greek coastguard, said 11 people, all of whom were thought to be Syrians, were rescued and a 12th swam ashore on Lesbos in the early hours. A man and a child were taken to hospital with hypothermia.

The body of another fouryear-old Syrian girl who drowned while trying to reach Greece was reported to have been found on a beach in western Turkey on Friday.

Turkish media reported the child, who has not been identified, had been travelling with a group of Syrians from the Aegean town of Cesme to the Greek island of Chios when their inflatable boat sank. Fourteen people, including eight children, were rescued by the coast guard.
 

Hungary angry after Croatia sends migrants across border by train

Publisher: CNN Wire
Author: By Kimberly Hutcherson, Ivan Watson and Antonia Mortensen CNN
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

TOVARNIK, Croatia (CNN) – Angry Hungarian officials have accused Croatia of helping refugees from the Middle East cross its borders illegally.

A train carrying 1,000 migrants and 40 Croatian police officers crossed into Hungary on Friday without permission, according to Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs.

"This is a violation of the international law and this act is considered completely illegal," Kovacs said.

The train was seized at a railway station six kilometers inside of Hungary, and Croatian police officers on board the train were disarmed, he said. The officers were sent back to Croatia, and the train driver was taken into custody. Hungary will take care of the migrants and provide them shelter, food and medical assistance, Kovacs said.

UN: Time running out

Meanwhile, the United Nations Refugee Agency warned Friday that time is running out for Europe to resolve the refugee crisis.

Europe needs a coherent and unified response to the problem, said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards.

"With more than 442,440 refugees and migrants having arrived via the Mediterranean so far this year, some 2,921 deaths, and 4,000 people arriving on the Greek islands daily, the crisis is growing and being pushed from one country to another without solution," Edwards said. "This environment is fertile ground for people-smugglers and others seeking to prey on this vulnerable population."

Croatia flounders

Croatian police said Friday that more than 14,000 migrants had entered the country since borders were opened. But the U.N. refugee agency said Croatia was only prepared to handle 500 migrants a day.

Kovacs had harsh words for the Croatian government's immigration strategy. At an impromptu press conference on the Hungary-Croatia border, the spokesman said Croatia's plans "collapsed within one day." And on Twitter, he accused Croatia of lying and breaking "all relating EU regulations."

Earlier this week, Croatia had welcomed migrants. But as the trickle of people became a rush of migrants crossing the country's borders, things changed. On Thursday, Croatia closed seven of its border crossings with Serbia.

Hungary's fence

With an official response that has included razor wire, tear gas and water cannons, Hungary has gotten a reputation as one of the most heavy-handed – some say cruel – European countries dealing with the ongoing influx of migrants and refugees.

But Kovacs defended his country's tactics. At his press conference Friday, he insisted Hungary would follow European Union protocols.

The country also announced that it was extending a state of emergency prompted by the migrant crisis, and that it would construct a temporary security fence along its border with Austria and Croatia over the weekend.

Throughout Europe, migrants are increasingly getting the cold shoulder, as borders close.

Nevertheless, the human stream keeps coming into Europe – from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, where armed conflict has pushed millions from their homes, and also from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where refugee camps are overflowing and the World Food Program has cut food rations for lack of funding.

They are looking for pathways to Germany.

Rivers, mountains, landmines

The route that runs through Austria and Croatia looks short on a map, but it is arduous, leading over rivers and mountains, and old battle lines of the Balkan Wars in the 1990s, where leftover scattered landmines and other unexploded ordnance lurk beneath the brush.

The path leads through Slovenia, which, like Hungary, is a European Union border frontier. And it seems resistant to letting migrants pass through.

Austria has reinstated border control measures on its border to Slovenia.

Germany's new barriers

Even if the migrants make it to Germany, which let in tens of thousands of people early on, they could encounter closed borders. Lawmakers there are working to make it easier to quickly deport those who don't achieve refugee status, German public television broadcaster ARD has reported. They are also looking to cut the level of aid provided to refugees in Germany.

Aid workers say Europe is facing its largest refugee and migrant crisis since World War II.

The EU is still trying to figure out how to distribute 160,000 migrants – and whether to set quotas for member countries to absorb them.

Eastern European countries in particular have shown resistance to committing to a quota.

Switzerland, however, said Friday that it would take 1,500 refugees registered in Italy and Greece if the EU can decide on an overall relocation program.

CNN's Ivan Watson reported from Tovarnik, while Tomas Etzler and Ben Wedeman reported from the Hungarian-Serbian border. CNN's Kimberly Hutcherson wrote from Atlanta. Hamdi Alkhshali contributed to this report.
 

Hungary moves to close off migrant crossing from Croatia

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Hungary erected a steel gate and fence posts at a border crossing with Croatia on Sunday, moving to seal a route used by its southern neighbor to offload thousands of migrants, a Reuters cameraman said.

Croatia has sent dozens of buses packed with migrants through the Baranjsko Petrovo Selo – Beremend crossing since they began streaming over its eastern border with Serbia five days ago.

More still have crossed by train, boarded by hundreds in chaotic scenes repeated on Sunday when rain-soaked migrants climbed through carriage windows at the Croatian border station of Tovarnik.

Hungary has barred their entry into the European Union via its border with Serbia with a metal fence and a raft of strict asylum rules, forcing them west into Croatia.

Fast losing control over an influx of some 25,000 migrants, Croatia – the EU's newest member – has taken to sending them north by bus and train across its own border with Hungary, which has waved them on to Austria.

The move has triggered angry exchanges between Zagreb and Budapest indicative of the disarray in Europe over the largest migration of people westwards since World War Two.

Hungary, which says it is defending Europe's "Christian identity" from hundreds of thousands of mainly Muslim migrants reaching its shores, says it is completing another fence on a 41 kilometer (25.5 miles) stretch of its frontier with Croatia to keep them out.

A Reuters cameraman on the Croatian side of the border saw construction crews and soldiers erecting a gate and driving fence posts some three meters high into the ground, suggesting they were close to sealing the Beremend crossing.

More migrant buses were on their way from the nearby Croatian town of Beli Manastir.

Further south, on Croatia's border with Serbia, a packed train left the town of Tovarnik amid desperate scenes of migrants running and fighting to board, and small children plucked from the crowd by startled and overwhelmed police.

After several hot days, the temperature dropped overnight and rain arrived on Sunday. "I'm desperate," said 32-year-old Amina, traveling with two children from Baquba in Iraq.

"It was cold overnight and now it's raining and the children will get sick," she said through a Red Cross interpreter. "The police say they will board women and children first, but I didn't manage. I lost our bag the day before yesterday and now we have no belongings at all."

(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
 

Refugee crisis: Hungary accuses Croatia of 'violating international law' as tensions continue to rise over chaos in the Balkans

Publisher: Independent Online
Author: Lizzie Dearden
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Hungarian authorities seized a train that crossed its border and detained the Croatian police on board

David Miliband has accused Hungary and Croatia of engaging in an "arms race" that is "betraying European history" as tensions continue to rise over the refugee crisis.

Hungary accused its neighbour of committing a "major violation of international law" by allowing more than 1,000 refugees to take a train across its border, which was then halted as the 40 Croatian police on board were disarmed and returned, and the train driver arrested on Friday.

More than 17,000 migrants and asylum seekers entered Croatia in just three days this week after Hungary closed its border with Serbia, and families using the well-trodden Western Balkans route into the EU were forced to divert.

Border crossings have been shut, bridges blocked, trains stopped and barriers built as both countries attempt to stop the influx of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Mr Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary, said: "The Syria crisis has already claimed 100s of thousands of victims.

"Now it is threatening one of the most important stabilizing institutions of the modern world: the European Union, which has helped bring peace and prosperity to 28 countries on the basis of shared values and commitments.

"A Europe defined by a beggar-my-neighbor race to the bottom was precisely what the EU was created to prevent.

"The arms race between Hungary and Croatia – from fences to water cannon to tear gas – to prevent refugees crossing their territory betrays European history, never mind European norms. The sooner that European leaders come together in the summit called by Germany the better."

The ex-Labour MP is President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which is working to help refugees and people affected by the crisis with healthcare, infrastructure and economic support.

Thousands of refugees are being trapped in a vicious tug-of-war between Balkan states, with those moving westwards after being beaten back tear gas and water cannon on the Hungarian-Serbian border meeting riot police in Croatia.

Read more: Croatian PM says country cannot copeThe British family saving refugees on a Greek islandJournalists give refugee suffering heart attack CPR

Meanwhile, neighbouring Slovenia stopped trains crossing the border was attempting to return refugees coming from Croatia.

Zoran Milanovic,, the Croatian Prime Minister, declared that his nation of 4.2 million could no longer cope as it started closing its border and trying to transfer people onwards into Hungary.

"You are welcome in Croatia and you can pass through Croatia," he said. "But go on. Not because we don't like you, but because this is not your final destination."

Only one woman with children has requested asylum in Croatia, which has one of the smallest economies in Europe.

It is part of the EU but not a party to the Schengen treaty, which allows people to travel freely between 26 European countries, but Slovenia and Hungary are members.

Relations between the states continued to deteriorate on Saturday when Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs accused Croatia of committing a "major violation of international law" by allowing trains to cross its border.

"What we see today is a complete failure of the Croatian state to handle migration issues," he added.

"What is more, we see intentional participation in human smuggling, taking these migrants to the Hungarian border."

Croatia had said the two countries agreed to create a corridor for the refugees and the Hungarian foreign ministry called it a "pure lie".

The UN refugee agency warned the crisis was being worsened by the contradictory national policies. How Hungary welcomes its refugees – in pictures

"The crisis is growing and being pushed from one country to another," said Adrian Edwards of UNHCR. "You aren't going to solve these problems by closing borders."

In Croatian border towns, like Beli Manastir, refugees are sleeping on the streets and train tracks before scrambling to board local buses with no guarantee that it will get them any nearer to Hungary.

Much of the boundary between Serbia and Croatia is divided by the Danube River, where almost all international bridges have been closed.

The UNHCR says more than 442,440 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe so far this year and 2,921 have died attempting the voyage.
 

Pope says moved by meeting with Syrian refugees hosted in Vatican

Publisher: Reuters
Author: BY PHILIP PULLELLA
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Pope Francis on Saturday described how he became emotional when he met a family of Syrian refugees who have been given shelter in the Vatican.

"There are wars, refugees who are escaping in this wave of migration away from wars," he told reporters aboard the plane taking him from Rome to Havana to start his nine-day trip to Cuba and the United States.

"They are fleeing from death and seeking life," he said.

Francis said that he became "emotional" at the Vatican, as he was leaving for the airport on Saturday morning, when he was greeted by a Syrian family that one of the parishes inside the tiny city-state is hosting.

"You could see the pain in their faces," he said.

Earlier this month, Francis appealed to every parish and religious community in Europe to take in a family of refugees..

To set an example, the pontiff asked the two parishes inside the Vatican, a sovereign city-state surrounded by Rome, to take in a family.

"I think that today the world is thirsting for peace," he said.

An emergency meeting of European Union ministers this week failed to agree on a plan to share out some 160,000 newly arrived refugees, a measure aimed at relieving pressure on the region's border countries such as Italy, Greece and Hungary.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Brown)
 

Poland says it will accept only a 'symbolic' number of refugees

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Poland will accept a "symbolic" number of refugees, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said on Sunday, far fewer than the more than 80,000 Chechens it took in 1990s.

In an announcement made before the European Union's extraordinary summit planned for Wednesday to tackle the migration crisis, Kopacz reiterated that Poland will only accept refugees and not economic migrants.

"I can say today that there will not be too many of them. Definitely much fewer than in the '90s when Poland accepted more than 80,000 refugees from Chechnya," Kopacz said on public television.

"The number of refugees that we would take is symbolic, it constitutes a small fraction of the whole," she added.

Kopacz said earlier this month that Poland was considering raising the number of migrants from the initially declared 2,000.

(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)
 

Migrants brave deadly dinghies, Turkish coastguard for new life

Publisher: Reuters
Author: BY UMIT BEKTAS
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

It is nighttime on a beach near the resort town of Bodrum and a group of migrants look out nervously at two ships on the horizon, wondering if they can slip past the Turkish coastguard and cross the Aegean Sea into a new life in Europe.

But their dinghies are poorly made and slow, and the coastguard has stepped up patrols in the area, where the body of toddler Aylan Kurdi washed up, sparking international outrage.

While Europe has only woken up to the size of the refugee crisis this summer, Turkey has been the front lines for more than four years. It shares a 900-km (550 mile) border with Syria and has welcomed those fleeing the civil war, now in its fifth year.

It now hosts the world's largest refugee population, at 2.2 million, and has spent $7.6 billion on providing them food, shelter and care, according to Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus.

Many refugees attempt to use Turkey as a springboard into wealthier Europe. A record 300,000 or more Syrians and other migrants have arrived in Greece, mostly setting off from Turkey's Aegean coast, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

"Tonight, Al Yunan!", one young migrant says, using the Arabic name for Greece.

They wait until around 4 a.m., when the sea is calmest just before dawn, and then float the dinghies – cheap, dangerous boats – strap on their life vests and hit the sea.

PERILS OF DAYLIGHT CROSSING

At its closest, Bodrum is just 4 km from the Greek island of Kos, but the coastguard is also nearby. Paddles and deflated boats float on the open water, signs of earlier attempts to cross that were foiled by the Turkish patrols.

The coastguard has rescued more than 53,000 migrants while 274 have died in Turkish waters, Kurtulmus has said, without specifying a time frame.

The "captains" of the migrant dinghies are often immigrants themselves, with no experience on the sea.

As one of the boats starts to take water, a migrant dumps his only belonging into the sea, a bag carrying his phone charger, a few clothes and some medicine.

Only one of dinghies manages to evade the coastguard tonight. The others are stopped and brought back to land, where they will be detained and questioned. If they are Syrian, they are sent to refugee camps. Migrants from other countries are deported.

Other migrants remain on the beach, waiting for sunrise, when the patrols end their shifts and turn back to port. But a morning crossing brings its own perils, such as tourists in yachts and watchful locals on the beach.

"I called the coastguard the other day and reported a boat. It doesn't make me a bad person because I was trying to help," one 55-year-old Bodrum local, himself a yacht captain, told Reuters.

"A vessel was passing and they were just paddling right toward it. They were going to get killed otherwise."

(Writing by Ece Toksabay and David Dolan; editing by Ralph Boulton)
 

Refugee crisis: Hundreds of Syrian refugees 'threatened with deportation back to Syria'

Publisher: Independent Online
Author: Caroline Mortimer
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Rescued refugees in Turkey claim several have already been put on a flight to Lebanon

Hundreds of Syrian refugees fear they could be sent back by Turkish authorities after they were rescued by the country's coastguard.

A total of 22 people drowned when the boat capsized a few miles from the Turkish coast as they tried to reach the Greek island of Kos, while 211 people were rescued and taken to a detention centre in Dzii, southern Turkey.

According to the Guardian, survivors have said some of the Syrian detainees had been flown to Lebanon.

A spokesman for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan denied any refugee would be sent to Syria but survivors say those who cannot afford a flight to Lebanon are being forced to go to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria.

One refugee said: "They are threatening us that Syrians will be deported to Syria, Iraqis to Iraq.

"We are being deported at our cost – whoever doesn't have the money to go to Beirut airport, they send him to Bab al-Hawa. I don't know what to say.

"If they send us back to Syria we will die."

Mr Erdogan's spokesman, Dogan Eskinat told the Guardian: "All refugees are interviewed by [the UN refugee agency], who make sure that they will not be returned to Syria.

"In general, we have a no-returns policy, so I don't know where that claim comes from."

Turkey is one of several east European countries struggling to cope with the influx of refugees escaping Isis and civil war in Syria and Iraq.

4m Syrians are believed to have fled the country since fighting broke out in 2011 with approximately 6.5m more displaced within the country, according to the UNHCR.
 

Thirteen migrants killed as boat is wrecked off Turkish coast

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

ATHENS/ANKARA
Thirteen migrants, including six children, died when their boat was wrecked in Turkish waters, a Turkish coastguard source said on Sunday.

It was believed to be the same incident as one reported by Greek authorities early on Sunday, in which an inflatable carrying 46 people towards the Greek island of Lesbos collided with a cargo vessel and capsized.

Six of those killed were children and 20 people were rescued, the Turkish source said. The search continues for 13 people missing. Seven of those rescued were receiving treatment.

Their nationalities were not immediately known.

"They (the migrants) told rescuers there were 46 people in the inflatable dinghy in total," a Greek coastguard spokeswoman said.

Rescues and sinkings occur almost daily in the often choppy seas off Greece's eastern islands.

Tens of thousands of mainly Syrian refugees have braved the short crossing from Turkey this year, mainly in flimsy and overcrowded inflatable boats.

A girl believed to be aged five died on Saturday and 13 others were feared drowned after their boat sank off Lesbos, a favored entry point on a route that takes the migrants through the Balkans towards northern Europe.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas, John Stonestreet and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Andrew Roche)
 

Syrians begin to arrive from camps

Publisher: The Sunday Times
Author: James Lyons
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

THE first wave of Syrian refugees brought to Britain under the government's plan to resettle some of the most vulnerable people fleeing the conflict are due to arrive this week.

The UK has pledged to take 20,000 additional Syrians from refugee camps in the region in response to the crisis.

Justine Greening, the international development secretary, will today promise the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, more resources to identify those most in need.

Britain is also speeding up the handover of army barracks in Germany that will be used to house some of the migrants flocking to the country.

Fallingbostel, in northern Germany, home to UK troops for 70 years, was not due to be returned to the country's authorities until March but that will now happen within weeks.

Javelin barracks, in Elmpt, near Dsseldorf, will also be given back to the Germans a month early, while Harewood barracks in Herford, west of Hanover, has already been released.

The process was accelerated after Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, urged officials to be as helpful as possible.

Unlike the UK, Germany has been welcoming migrants who reach Europe.

A Ministry of Defence source stressed that Britain remains determined to take refugees only from camps in Lebanon and other countries neighbouring Syria rather than those who try to make it here themselves.

"Our own policy remains focused on taking refugees from camps," the source said.

"This is a practical step to help Germany with the migration challenges it is facing."

Ministers set up the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme last year to bring those most at risk from refugee camps in Lebanon and other countries in the region to Britain.

Only a couple of hundred women and children, survivors of torture and violence and those in severe need of medical care had been brought here, but Britain will now take another 20,000 over five years.

"Britain has been supporting millions of people caught up in the brutal Syria conflict right from its start four years ago," Greening said. "We've given more than £1bn in aid second only to the United States.

"By taking refugees directly from camps in the region we are ensuring that we reach the most vulnerable, while our aid continues to support others to stay in the region rather than make the perilous journey to Europe," she said.
 

UK promises extra support to refugee agency

Publisher: Independent On Sunday
Author: By Jane Merrick POLITICAL EDITOR
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

News | Greening says UNHCR will be given help to identify 'most needy' from camps near Syria

Britain will ensure that the UN's refugee agency has the resources it needs to resettle the extra 20,000 Syrians it has promised to take into the UK, International Development Secretary Justine Greening said last night.

The Government says it will offer support to the UNHCR to identify Syrian refugees most in need, as part of its pledge, announced by David Cameron this month, to take an additional 20,000 by 2020.

Yet the pledge for extra support to the UN came just days after the publication of the Government's Immigration Bill, which contains controversial plans to axe benefits for failed asylum seekers, including those with children.

The plans caused uproar in the summer when it emerged that ministers want to make Britain "less attractive" to migrants by ending support for the families of failed asylum seekers.

But the Government argues that resources and support should be directed towards genuine asylum seekers and refugees, including the thousands extra that Britain will take as a result of the deepening migrant crisis.

The Syrian Vulnerable Person Relocation scheme, set up last year to identify those who most needed help, including women and children at risk, survivors of torture and violence, and those in severe need of medical care, will be significantly scaled up to take the extra 20,000 Syrian refugees, the Government said.

Ms Greening said: "Britain has been supporting millions of people caught up in the brutal Syria conflict right from its start four years ago. We've given more than £1bn in aid – second only to the United States – for food, shelter, education and health services, helping the victims of this terrible tragedy rebuild their lives in host countries. And we will use our expertise to help speed up the resettlement of 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees from the region. This is not just morally the right thing to do, but it's also the smart thing to do.

"By taking refugees directly from camps in the region we are ensuring that we reach the most vulnerable, while our aid continues to support others to stay in the region rather than make the perilous journey to Europe."

Richard Harrington, the minister for Syrian refugees, said: "As the UK prepares to welcome the first arrivals under our expanded Syrian refugee scheme, I am driving forward intensive work to ensure these individuals have all the support they need. The scale of the expansion needs careful and meticulous planning to ensure we get it right. This week I chaired a meeting of more than 20 NGOs and partner organisations, who are all focused on working with us to find ways to support these refugees.

"The Government will continue to work hand in hand with charities and local authorities to resettle 20,000 people over the course of this Parliament."

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, will travel to Brussels on Tuesday to press ahead with the Government's renegotiation of the UK's relationship with the EU.

Mr Hammond will meet representatives of the European Commission, members of the European Parliament, business leaders and the foreign ministers of France and Belgium to discuss EU reform.

He said last night: "The Government is working hard to renegotiate the terms of Britain's relationship with the EU.

"We are confident that we will be able to negotiate a package that addresses the concerns of the British people – but the decision will be for them alone to take in the referendum we have promised."
 

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