Refugee Crisis: Austrian Chancellor Avoids Word ‘Fence’

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
October 28, 2015 Updated: October 28, 2015

STOCKHOLM—The latest in the odyssey of hundreds of thousands of people trekking across Europe in search of a new life. All times local.

11:22 p.m.

Austria’s interior minister has spoken of plans for a “fence” on the border to Slovenia in efforts to control the flow of migrants, but the country’s chancellor is avoiding the word.

Asked repeatedly Wednesday about the announcement by Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Chancellor Werner Faymann spoke of “technical security” measures but insisted there will be “no fence” to Slovenia.

The issue is controversial , with Austria among the forefront of countries criticizing Hungary’s decision to build a fence along its border to Serbia—a move that has led migrants to change their route toward the European Union’s most prosperous countries.

They now go from Serbia to Croatia then on to Slovenia, and from there to Austria, with some staying and others going on to other EU nations..

11:20 p.m.

Fishing boats and coast guard vessels are bringing the 242 people who were rescued from a shipwreck near Lesbos to the village Molyvos on the Greek island’s northern coast.

The survivors, including many children, are being offered assistance by volunteers and doctors in makeshift shelters. Many women suffer from shock or hypothermia and are receiving first aid in a chapel at the port.

At least three people died as the wooden boat capsized Wednesday and it was unclear how many people were onboard when the accident happened.

Greek coast guard boats, assisted by vessels from the European Frontex border agency and a helicopter, were searching through the night for survivors, amid strong winds blowing in the area.

11:00 p.m.

Greece’s merchant marine minister has expressed sorrow about the most recent deaths in the Aegean Sea, calling for more coherent European Union policies to stop migrants risking their lives by paying smuggling gangs to ferry them to Greece in unseaworthy crafts.

Thodoros Dritsas says “the coast guard’s admirable, constant struggle to rescue refugees at sea is, unfortunately, tending of late to turn into a constant and agonizing operation to locate and recover drowned refugees.”

He says “Europe’s priority should be to safely relocate refugees from their countries of origin and transit to European Union members.”

At least 11 people, including many children, died in five separate incidents in the eastern Aegean Sea Wednesday as thousands of people continued to head to the Greek islands in frail boats from Turkey.

10:15 p.m.

The Greek coast guard says it has rescued 242 people off the eastern island of Lesbos after the wooden boat they traveled in capsized, leaving at least three people dead.

It says rescuers continue to search the rough waters for more survivors and that it is unclear how many people were on the boat when it went under Wednesday.

Greece is the main entry point for people from the Middle East and Africa seeking a better future in Europe. Well over half a million have arrived so far this year.

6:10 p.m.

Greek authorities say at least five people, including four children, have drowned as thousands of refugees and economic migrants continued to head to the Aegean Sea islands in frail boats from Turkey, in worsening weather.

The coast guard said Wednesday that two children and a man died off the coast of Samos, while 51 people from the same small boat were rescued. A 5-year-old girl also drowned in a separate incident off Samos.

A 7-year-old boy died off Lesbos, where most migrants land, while a 12-month-old girl was in critical condition in hospital from the same boat accident.

Greece is the main entry point for people from the Middle East and Africa seeking a better future in Europe. Well over half a million have arrived so far this year.

6:05 p.m.

Germany has informed European authorities that it will continue border checks for at least another two weeks amid the continued influx of refugees and other migrants.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere informed the European Commission on Wednesday that Germany planned on continuing checks at the border until Nov. 13. The dpa news agency reported the development after seeing the written notification.

There are normally no border controls between Germany and Austria, through which most of the migrants are coming, but to deal with the influx Germany has temporarily reinstated document checks to register newcomers as they enter.

5:55 p.m.

Swedish authorities say 14 refugees are refusing to leave a bus in northern Sweden, protesting that they do not want to stay in chalets in a remote and cold part of Sweden.

Immigration agency spokeswoman Maria Lofgren says the standoff started late Sunday when 60 refugees from Syria and Iraq arrived in Lima close to the Norwegian border.

Lofgren said Wednesday that police were handling the the case, adding the refugees would stay there only while their claims were being processed.

Hadeel Waez, a Syrian asylum-seeker told Swedish broadcaster SVT “we have children and a pregnant woman, it is too cold and there are no shops and no doctor.”

The fully equipped chalets, made for winter sports tourists, are in the middle of woods half-a-dozen kilometers (miles) from the nearest town.

5:45 p.m.

Several thousands of Czechs have used a national holiday—Independent Czechoslovak State Day—to rally against asylum seekers.

Wednesday’s rallies in major cities across the country were organized by fringe political groupings and parties that exploit anti-migrant and anti-Muslim sentiments.

The biggest demonstration was in Brno, the country’s second-largest city, where more than a thousand people turned out. Other protests in Prague, Liberec, Usti nad Labem and Ostrava each mustered a few hundred protesters

No significant incidents were reported. The holiday celebrates the creation of Czechslovkia in 1918.

So far, few of the refugees fleeing war and poverty have used Czech territory on their way to the rich western countries such is Germany.

5:20 p.m.

Katerina Hola believes that migrants often need joy as much as they need food or drink. So, she and her fellow volunteers sometimes sing to the migrants to help lift their spirits.

The 27-year-old volunteer from the Czech Republic is spending her work holiday aiding asylum seekers at Serbia’s border with Croatia. Tens of thousands of people have crossed along the muddy frontier road, often spending hours out in the cold and rain.

Hola, from Prague, says volunteers have been handing out food, drinks and clothes. She says: “People are going through difficult times. It’s important to give them some joy through music.”

Hola plays the guitar and sings, joined by fellow volunteers playing other instruments, including a small boy—a volunteer’s son—on drums. Migrants smiled as they passed by.

4:25 p.m.

A group of German police officers has arrived in Slovenia, joining colleagues from Austria, as the small Alpine nation struggles to manage influx tens of thousands of migrants.

Germany says it sent the five officers to prepare for a wider European deployment.

Slovenia has asked formally for EU assistance in manpower and equipment, complaining that large numbers of migrants streaming into the country have put too much strain on the police. The government also has sent army troops to the border.

Several EU countries have responded positively to Slovenia’s request. Eight police from Austria have been deployed since Oct. 13, while Slovenian authorities say officers from Hungary and Slovakia could arrive within days.

4:10 p.m.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer has called for better control of borders and distribution of Syrian refugees.

While on a visit to Pristina, Kosovo, Wednesday Fischer said Austria is reaching its limited capacities with an expectation of some 80,000 asylum requests.

So far this year half a million refugees have passed through Austria, most in transit toward Germany, creating a lot of “organizational and logistic problems,” he said.

Fischer said there is nothing set on the possibility of building a fence along parts of his country’s border.

“We should pay more attention to the problem of better checking the outside EU borders and a better distribution of the refugees within Europe,” he said. “Only if the numbers are distributed equally could the burden be coped with.”

2:20 p.m.

Danish police say a 58-year-old man faces preliminary charges of racism and violence for allegedly spitting on a group of refugees from a highway overpass near the southern port town of Roedby.

Police spokesman Kim Kliver declined Wednesday to name the man but said he’s from the area. A photo of him spitting from the E47 highway bridge on Sept. 8 circulated on social media and was met by chiefly critical comments.

The refugees were walking on the highway after a ferry crossing from Germany. They were believed to be heading for Sweden and other Nordic countries.

In Denmark, preliminary charges are a step short of formal charges. If convicted, he risks a fine or up to two years in prison.

2 p.m.

Croatian police say fewer refugees than usual have entered the country in the past day and a half.

Spokesman Domagoj Dzigumovic says 2,700 migrants came in Wednesday morning and 5,700 on Tuesday, numbers down from the past weeks. Croatia reported a record 11,500 refugees entering on Saturday alone.

Dzigumovic insists it’s still too early to say whether the migrant wave toward Western Europe is slowing down. He says at least 10 days must pass before any conclusions can be drawn.

Police say nearly 270,000 migrants have crossed into Croatia since Sept. 15, when Hungary closed its border with Serbia, diverting refugees to Croatia.

Asylum-seekers are traveling from Turkey across the sea to Greece and then through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, trying to reach wealthy EU nations like Germany.

12:35 p.m.

Slovenia’s prime minister says his country is ready to build a fence on its border with Croatia if an EU plan to stem their flow across the Balkans fails.

Miro Cerar, speaking after a meeting of Slovenia’s national security council on Wednesday, says “if necessary, we are ready to put up the fence immediately.”

EU and Balkan leaders agreed at a weekend summit to stem the massive migrant surge by introducing tighter border controls.

Since Oct. 16, when the refugee flow was rerouted to Slovenia after Hungary sealed off its border with Croatia, more than 86,000 people have crossed into Slovenia.

The small Alpine nation has been struggling to cope with the influx and has criticized Croatia for sending more migrants to the border than it can handle.

12:10 p.m.

Germany’s Interior Minister says many of the Afghans pouring into the country will most likely be sent back to their homeland.

Thomas de Maiziere says Germany and other western nations have poured millions in developmental aid into Afghanistan, as well as sending troops and police to help train security forces there, and that Afghanistan’s government agrees with Berlin that citizens should stay and help rebuild the country.

De Maiziere said Wednesday, “the people who come from Afghanistan cannot expect that they will be able to stay.”

Germany has implemented a plan to streamline the asylum process for those fleeing civil war, such as Syrians, to settle them more quickly, but also to more rapidly send home those whose case for asylum is weak.

He says Afghans will be considered case-by-case.

12 noon

Germany’s top security official has sharply criticized Austria for dumping migrants at the border between the two countries under the cover of night.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere says “Austria’s behavior in recent days was out of line.”

De Maiziere told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that Austrian authorities failed to warn their German counterparts about the impending arrivals.

He says the two countries have agreed to cooperate better “and I expect this to happen immediately.”

11:35 a.m.

With no signs of a slowdown in the flow of migrants from Slovenia, Austrian officials are raising the possibility of building a fence along parts of the countries’ common border.

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner says a fence might be needed to ensure an “orderly, controlled” entry into Austria. Defense Minister Gerald Klug says containers or railings could be set up to “be able to control the refugees in an orderly way.”

They spoke Wednesday to state broadcaster ORF.

The flow of migrants seeking a better life in the European Union over the west Balkans land route has shifted from Hungary to Slovenia since Hungary erected a fence along its border with Serbia last month. Most continue to Germany and other EU countries from Austria.

Slovenia on Tuesday also hinted that it was considering fences, on its border with Croatia.

11 a.m.

Political leaders in the Netherlands are calling for a halt to threats and intimidation amid heated debate on providing shelter for thousands of asylum seekers entering the country.

In an open letter published Wednesday, the leaders of 11 political parties in the Dutch parliament say they understand the strong emotions on both sides of the debate but appeal to concerned citizens “not to confuse threats and insults with arguments. Let everybody speak, even if you totally disagree with them.”

In recent weeks, demonstration marches and meetings to discuss emergency housing for asylum seekers in several towns have degenerated into verbal abuse on both sides.

The leaders say that anonymous threats via mail and social media also appear to be increasing, adding that “people, whatever their view, who behave that way limit freedom for all of us.”

Even the nation’s monarch is concerned. In comments to reporters during a state visit to China, King Willem-Alexander said that, “In the Netherlands we talk things out, we don’t fight them out.”

10:55 a.m.

Sweden’s immigration agency says it will no longer publicize the location of facilities intended to house refugees after more than 20 fires, many considered arsons, have either destroyed or made the buildings temporarily unusable.

Migrationsverket spokeswoman Johanna Uhr says future sites “will somehow be kept concealed.”

Uhr says it hasn’t yet decided how to do that.

In recent weeks, Sweden has seen a spate of arson attacks on asylum centers or buildings to be used as such as an influx of refugees has surged. Immigration officials estimate some 190,000 asylum-seekers will arrive this year, putting Sweden second only to Germany among EU members.

Last week, Migrationsverket called an idea by a Swedish municipality to keep a facility secret unrealistic. The agency’s new position came after two more blazes early Wednesday.