The Latest: New migrant route in Balkans announced


GENEVA (AP) — The Latest on the influx of migrants into Europe (all times local):

3:45 p.m.

Croatia’s interior minister has announced a new way migrants will be transiting the Balkans — an attempt to stem their flow toward western Europe.

Vlaho Orepic said Tuesday that Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Austria agreed that the migrants will be transported in trains straight from the Macedonian to the Austrian border.

So far, hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing wars and poverty were transported to the borders of each of the Balkan countries where they were separately screened and given temporary asylum documents before continuing their journey.

Orepic said the paperwork would “soon” be centered only in Macedonia on its border with Greece before the migrants reach Austria.

He said they would be allowed to disembark the trains only if they seek asylum in one of the Balkan countries or in cases of illness.

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3:40 p.m.

Greece’s prime minister says possible NATO involvement in dealing with the refugee crisis in Europe should only involve patrols in Turkish territorial waters.

Olga Gerovasili, a government spokeswoman in Athens, said Premier Alexis Tsipras discussed the issue in a telephone call Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Greece is facing growing pressure from the European Union to strengthen border protection and detection of migrants who are not considered eligible for asylum in Europe.

On Monday, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos suggested that the EU’s border protection agency Frontex could patrol Turkish waters and turn back boats carrying migrants and refugees.

He said Frontex patrols could “stop the great migratory flow to Greece” as well as deaths in frequent disasters at sea.

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2:45 p.m.

Hungary’s foreign minister says four central-eastern European countries cooperated well during the migrant crisis, helping Hungary to “stop the migrant pressure at its borders.”

Peter Szijjarto said Tuesday after a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that Hungary’s success in halting the migrant flow was made possible by assistance from Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which sent police and equipment to help guard Hungary’s fence on its borders with Serbia and Croatia.

Leaders of the four countries in the so-called Visegrad Group will meet next week in Prague with officials from Bulgaria and Macedonia. Hungary has been advocating for a “European defense line” to stop the flow of people along the borders Bulgaria and Macedonia share with Greece.

Szijjarto said it was unfair to put the pressure of “protecting Europe” from migrants only on Turkey and that Europe has to “eliminate its defenselessness” on its southern borders.

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2:05 p.m.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the U.S.-led alliance will discuss this week whether to get more involved in trying to stem Europe’s ongoing migration crisis.

Stoltenberg said Tuesday he had spoken by telephone with the German and Turkish defense ministers, and that the issue will be on the agenda at a NATO defense ministers’ meeting Wednesday.

Stoltenberg said that “we are all concerned.” He said NATO’s 28 member countries “see the need to manage and to tackle the human tragedy,” and the problems associated with it.

On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu agreed Wednesday’s NATO meeting should discuss how the alliance “can be helpful with the surveillance situation” in the Mediterranean and assist the Turkish coast guard and the European Union’s border agency.

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1:45 p.m.

Austria’s foreign minister says his country will substantially reduce the influx of refugees this year and urged the countries on the Balkan migrant corridor to be prepared to do the same.

Sebastian Kurz says that last year Austria accepted 90,000 people and will limit the number to 37,500 in 2016.

Kurz said “we are aware of the consequences this could cause” on the migrant route that leads from Greece through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia before reaching Austria.

He said that Austria is ready to help Macedonia and the other countries on the corridor to stem the surge.

Most of the migrants fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia want to go to Germany and other rich EU states where they seek asylum.

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12:20 p.m.

The International Organization for Migration says 409 people have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and migrant crossings in the first six weeks of 2016 are running at nearly 10 times the rate of the same period last year.

IOM says 76,000 people have reached Europe by sea, nearly 2,000 per day, since Jan. 1.

More than three-fourths of the deaths have been on the short eastern Mediterranean route between Turkey and Greece — which traditionally has seen far fewer deaths than the much longer central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy.

The IOM statement Tuesday comes a day after Turkey’s coast guard said 27 migrants had died after their boat capsized in the Bay of Edremit while trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos.

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