Europe’s migrant crisis – roundup, September 11

Four eastern EU member states have stood by their rejection of compulsory quotas for migrants. Germany’s foreign minister has warned that the refugee crisis could be “the biggest challenge for the EU in its history”, Deutsche Welle reports.

At a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in the Czech capital, Prague, on Friday, representatives from Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic maintained their hard-line stance towards plans announced by the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, earlier this week.

The four eastern European countries refused to accept the plans on Friday, however, arguing that the numbers of refugees should be controlled by each individual EU member state.

“We’re convinced that as countries we should keep control over the number of those we are able to accept and then offer them support,” Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek told reporters at a joint press conference with his Hungarian, Polish and Slovak counterparts.

Hungary offered on Friday, however, to hold talks with non-EU neighbors Serbia and Macedonia regarding the refugee crisis.

“Budapest will be happy to host a conference that will tackle the cooperation between western countries and western Balkan countries,” Peter Szijjarto said, adding that as of next week his country would prosecute anyone caught damaging border infrastructure.

* Czech firms are ready to employ 5000 refugees, the Prague Post reports, citing the Czech news agency.

Czech firms are ready to immediately employ at least 5000 refugees from countries such as Syria, especially in technical professions, according to a survey that the Confederation of Industry conducted among several dozens of large Czech industrial companies.

“However, we assume that the demand for refugees may be many times higher,” the confederation’s spokesman Milan Mostyn told the Czech News Agency.

* An event organised by the Plea for Humanity group which included a call on the government to support refugees, along with a cultural event and a collection for refugees, will be held in Bratislava on September 12, a day when several foreign cities also held events to express solidarity with migrants, The Slovak Spectator reports.

However, protesters against the Islamisation of Europe have also organized a gathering in the Slovak capital on the same day.

*  Greece’s Alternate Shipping Minister Christos Zois and other government officials were in Lesvos on Friday to consult with local authorities and with representatives of local businesses and seek to improve their response to a burgeoning migration crisis, ekathimerini reported on September 11.

Although tensions on the eastern Aegean island appeared to have eased in recent days as thousands of migrants have been transferred to Piraeus, the influx from Turkey is continuing unabated.

* As if fear, hunger, thirst, worry and exhaustion were not enough to endure, a new trial emerged Thursday for those on the 1,000 mile-plus trek into Europe: torrential rain, Turkey’s Today’s Zaman said.

Thousands of people, including many families with young children, braved downpours and muddy fields on Thursday to cross Greece’s northern border into Macedonia, in what Greek police said was the largest single wave of refugees they had seen so far.

By early afternoon, all had crossed but thousands more were on their way, heading to the Greek mainland in ferries.

* Around 3800 soldiers have already been deployed at Hungary’s southern border, Hungary’s Defense Minister Istvan Simicsko said on Friday morning, Serbian website B92 said.

The soldier’s main task is to help in the building of a fence along the border with Serbia, it has been announced.

In a statement to Channel TV2, he confirmed the media reports that around 10 km of the fence was being built every day, Hungarian news agency MTI reported.

* Austria closed the motorway that leads from the Hungarian border to Vienna, and its train connections with Hungary will remain closed through the weekend, euronews reports.

The authorities say it is for security reasons, as during the night and early this morning hundreds of refugees were heading towards the capital on foot.

* With rail links to Austria’s capital still suspended, thousands of migrants are hiking to Vienna from the border with Hungary in their quest for asylum, the Voice of America reports.

Austrian officials halted cross-border train service with HungaryThursday because of “massive overcrowding,” saying they no longer have the capacity to deal with the throngs of people wanting to board trains for the 60-kilometer journey.

Austria’s A4 highway was shut to cars Friday, making room for the long lines of refugees trekking toward Vienna to seek asylum in Austria or farther on in Germany. Other weary migrants awaited buses at Nickelsdorf, Austria, just across the border with Hungary.

* Footage has emerged of migrants being thrown bags of food at a Hungarian camp near the border with Serbia, the BBC reports.

An Austrian woman who shot the video said the migrants were being treated like “animals” and called for European states to open their borders.

The emergency director of Human Rights Watch said the migrants were being held like “cattle in pens”.

* Over the last few days the situation on the Serbian-Hungarian border has been reaching a critical point. Just over the last 24 hours the refugee camp in Kanjiza, close to the border, has accepted 5000 migrants, VOANews said.

The conditions became more acute after Hungary announced that it would implement a new policy after September 15, including more severe punishment for entering the country illegally. The waves of migrants have intensified. For now, they have been crossing the border without problems and Hungarian authorities are placing them in a refugee camp in Roeszke.

While Hungarian authorities continue to work on the border fence, migrants consider the latest news: that those who are registered by the Hungarian police can continue their journey to Germany without delay, based on the promise of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

* Macedonia is considering building a barrier similar to that being built by Hungary in an attempt to halt the growing number of migrants coming from the south, Macedonian foreign minister Nikola Popovski said on September 10, Macedonian website Makfax said, quoting Reuters.

In the interview with Hungarian business weekly Figyelo, Popovski said Macedonia will most likely need “some sort of physical barrier”, but that this would also not be a long term solution.

* The number of refugees entering the Macedonian border has grown in recent hours, the Independent Balkan News Agency said on September 11. On September 10, more than 7000 refugees entered the country through the Greek border.

A tense situation has ruled in the southern border area, as police had placed restrictions and only allowed women and children to enter.

This situation led to the reaction of massive crowds who were standing under the rain. At a certain moment, police were seen hitting refugees in order for them to stand in line and not allowing them to enter the territory of the country, the report said.

* In Bulgaria, three new groups of refugees were caught overnight between the Black Sea resort towns of Tsarevo and Varvara, it was announced on September 11.

About 20 people were held at the Tsarevo police station. Unofficial information was that 15 illegal migrants were found in a car near the Black Sea town of Kiten. They were believed to be Kurds, although they told police they were Syrians. They were found after the car crashed and the driver fled.

Of the three groups, two had been travelling by car and the third group was walking.

Five people who had travelling in a car were detained near Tsarevo. The driver, a man from Bourgas who has a police record, was arrested. A further group of 20 people was detained at the Nestinarka camp.

On September 11, Bulgarian National Radio reported that the regional court in Tsarevo sentenced a man found transporting 54 refugees in a minivan to 11 months in jail, a 2000 leva (about 1000 euro) fine and also ordered the confiscation of his vehicle. In a plea bargain, Kalcho Iliev had pleaded guilty to transporting 54 migrants without identity documents through the border with Turkey on September 7.

* Amendments to Bulgaria’s Penal Code providing for increased penalties for trafficking of refugees will be presented for a second reading in Parliament next week, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Tsetska Tsacheva, said on September 11 2015.

Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, Tsacheva said that because of the increasing number of cases of trafficking of refugees in the country, a parliamentary committee had prepared and adopted additional clauses to be debated by MPs.

On September 10, Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kouneva, whose portfolio includes co-ordination of European policies, said that the large number of migrants entering Bulgaria should go hand-in-hand with heightened and guaranteed security for the country.

The same day, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Roumyana Buchvarova said that Bulgaria should not just accept refugees but also provide them with proper living conditions and education for their children.

* Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov spoke on the phone on September 10 with Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić, discussing the migration crisis in Europe, its impact in the countries of the Balkans and the possibilities for co-operation between governments in the region to tackle its consequences in a way best for the countries and the asylum seekers.

A Bulgarian government statement said that Borissov and Vučić agreed to hold a face-to-face meeting after the return of the Serbian prime minister from the United States. Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta would be invited, to continue the traditional tripartite dialogue.

(Refugees sit in the sun at a collection point in Röszke near the Hungarian-Serbian border while waiting to be transported to a registration centre. Photo: UNHCR/Z Gal)








The Sofia Globe staff

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