Naharnet

Austria Smuggler Crackdown as Europe Divided over Migrant Crisis

The hunt for people smugglers led to a security crackdown and massive tailbacks on Austria's border with Hungary on Monday, as Europe struggled to present a united front on the huge influx of migrants and refugees.

Austria's tightened security followed the discovery of 71 dead migrants, four of them children, in an abandoned lorry near the border with Hungary last week.

Since the checks on vehicles began late on Sunday, more than 200 migrants have been picked up and five suspected people smugglers arrested.

Separately, Austrian police stopped two trains carrying hundreds of refugees, mostly from Syria, that had been allowed leave neighboring Hungary without visas.

Much-flouted EU rules stipulate that refugees should be processed in the first country they reach, but Hungary says it cannot deal with the influx.

The chaos and piecemeal responses have been reflected across Europe as the continent struggles to cope with the biggest movement of people since World War II, with more than 300,000 arriving this year.

Most are fleeing war, persecution and hardship in the Middle East and Africa, and at least 2,500 have died trying to make the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

Austria has called for EU funding for states refusing to take their share of migrants to be cut, in the latest sign of deepening divisions over the crisis.

Home affairs ministers will meet on September 14 in Brussels in a bid to "strengthen the European response".

"If Europe fails on the question of refugees, if this close link with universal civil rights is broken, then it won't be the Europe we wished for," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday.

Her comments mirrored those of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in the French port of Calais, who said "too many countries are refusing to play their part. It goes against the European spirit and we can't accept it."

Valls said by early 2016, France would build a new reception camp for migrants in Calais, with the help of five million euros from the European Commission.

Most migrants land in Italy or Greece, then make for the wealthier countries of northern Europe.

"We are in a labyrinth, going from queue to queue, and here in Serbia, the police are shouting at us like we are animals," Samar, 40, from Damascus, told AFP as she waited with her two teenage boys for hours in the sun at a filthy camp in Presevo.

Transit countries in eastern Europe and the Balkans are struggling to cope.

Two weeks ago, Macedonia declared a state of emergency after a surge of people across its border with Greece.

The right-wing government in Hungary, which has seen 50,000 new arrivals this month, has laid razor wire along its border with Serbia to try keep migrants out, and is also building a four-meter (13 feet) fence to be policed by border guards and sniffer dogs.

Criticized by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as a breach of "Europe's common values", it has also proved ineffective, with police saying 3,080 migrants crossed on Saturday, the second-highest daily total.

A Palestinian-Syrian woman, travelling with her four-year-old daughter and other relatives, was unfazed.

"I just don't care who detains me now, I've already seen the worst," she told AFP in Belgrade.

"We were detained by the (Kurdish) People's Protection Units, the Islamic State group and Al-Nusra Front as we traveled westwards towards Turkey. It's a miracle we survived all that."

European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU needs "a way between the chaotic mess symbolized by the dramas in Calais... or the tragedies in the sea or recently in Austria, and drastic actions like those taken by Hungary.

"Europe has to find something between these two extremes," he said.

Hungary has arrested four Bulgarians and an Afghan in connection with last week's abandoned truck tragedy. Four of them pleaded not guilty during their first court appearance last week.

Inside the Hungarian-plated truck were the decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women, a toddler and three young boys, all thought to be Syrians.

Police said they may have been dead for up to two days before the lorry was found with body fluids dripping leaking out of it.

A passer-by told Hungarian news portal Index.hu that he saw the driver running away from the back doors in panic before being picked up and driven away in another car.

Three Syrian children, who were rescued with severe dehydration from another migrant-packed van and taken to hospital, vanished with their parents on Friday, with the families most likely heading to Germany, Austrian police said.

So far, the authorities have arrested 93 alleged people traffickers this year in Upper Austria state alone, but most still escape, officials said.

Source: Agence France Presse


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