BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest on Europe’s response to the wave of migration from the Middle East and elsewhere (all times local):
Italian Premier Matteo Renzi has called Austria’s measures to reinforce its borders against a possible influx of migrants “a pure propaganda exercise.”
Renzi told the lower house of Parliament on Wednesday that the Brenner Pass connecting Italy and Austria “is a symbol of friendship and dialogue, and the closure is little more than a provocation that concerns the Austrian electoral campaign.”
Austria has announced plans to increase monitoring of the Brenner Pass crossing, including a series of highway checkpoints, out of concern that the closure of the Balkans migrant route will increase migrant traffic through Italy. Austria has plans to erect a border fence in the event numbers increase.
Renzi said the moves “play with fear, and when you play with the past you risk reinforcing those who are good at agitating the specters of the past.”
Britain’s government has bowed to pressure and agreed to take in unaccompanied children from Syria who have made their way to Europe.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said Wednesday that children who registered in Greece, Italy or France before March 20 will be eligible to come to the U.K. It didn’t specify how many Britain would accept.
Britain has already agreed to resettle up to 3,000 vulnerable child refugees by 2020, as well as 20,000 Syrians from Middle Eastern refugee camps.
But the government had argued that accepting children already in Europe would encourage others to make the dangerous journey.
Labour peer Alf Dubs, who came to Britain on the 1930s “kindertransports” of Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Europe, led a campaign to get Cameron’s Conservative government to change its mind.
Four Central European countries have condemned a proposal by the European Commission suggesting that EU countries which refuse to accept refugees should face fines.
Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek says the proposal is an unpleasant surprise because it goes back to the principle of mandatory quotas his country together with Hungary, Poland and Slovakia strictly refuse.
According to the proposal, countries could face fines of 250,000 euros ($285,000) for each asylum-seeker rejected.
Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski says he is “wondering if it is a serious proposal,” while Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto says it’s “simply blackmailing” and “unacceptable.”
Slovak Deputy Foreign Minister Lukas Parizek says his country would only agree to accept refugees on a voluntary basis.
The four whose countries form an informal group known as the Visegrad four spoke at a news conference in Prague on Wednesday. The countries also said Turkey must meet all requirements before their citizens could be allowed to travel to Europe without visas.
Turkey has hailed the European Union executive Commission’s recommendation to grant Turkish citizens the right to travel to Europe without visas as “a new page” in relations.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday’s announcement brings Turkish citizens closer than ever to visa-free travel to Europe.
He says Turkey would continue to work to meet the remaining benchmarks before June when EU lawmaker and member states are due to endorse the visa waiver for Turkish citizens traveling for short vacations and business trips.
Cavusoglu said: “We are pleased of the point we have reached… We will continue to fulfil our obligations in a sincere way.”
The foreign minister said the recommendation amounts to the EU’s fulfilling a long-delayed promise to Turkey.
“The decision taken today is not just a turning point for visa-free travel, it is also a new page in relations with the European Union,” Cavusoglu said.
The European Commission has proposed that Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Norway be allowed to keep border controls in place for six months more to help manage the flow of migrants.
The EU’s executive arm said Wednesday that it had made the proposal because Greece still isn’t able to properly manage its border with Turkey, which prompted the five to reintroduce ID checks.
More than 1 million people arrived in Europe last year seeking sanctuary or jobs. Many entered Greece from Turkey but made their way north looking to stay in Austria, Germany and Scandinavian nations.
Those countries tightened border controls to cope with the arrivals but Germany, which was hardest hit by asylum-seeker numbers, can only legally keep controls in place until May 13.
The European Commission has recommended that Turkish citizens be allowed to travel to Europe without visas on short vacations and business trips.
The EU’s executive arm said Wednesday that Turkey has met most of the 72 criteria needed for a visa waiver, and it invited member states and EU lawmakers to endorse the move by June 30.
European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said “there is still work to be done as a matter of urgency but if Turkey sustains the progress made, they can meet the remaining benchmarks.”
Turkey must fulfill the final five criteria before the visa waiver is approved.
The move is part of a package of incentives offered to Turkey — including up to 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) in aid for Syrian refugees and fast-track EU membership talks — to persuade Ankara to stop migrants heading to Europe and take thousands back from Greece.
Protesters have scuffled with police trying to evacuate migrants camped out in an empty Paris high school.
Nearly 300 migrants from Sudan, Eritrea and a few from Syria had been living in the school in recent weeks, according to Paris police chief Michel Cadot. City authorities ordered it evacuated, and police arrived around dawn to clear them out.
Cadot told reporters that police used tear gas to clear protesters who had blocked the entrance to the Jean Jaures school in northeast Paris. Some masked protesters threw projectiles.
The demonstrators included members of a nationwide protest movement against labor reforms.
Cadot said the migrants were being relocated to shelters and encouraged to apply for asylum. French authorities have routinely cleared out migrants camping in public places in recent months.
European Union countries that refuse to accept refugees under proposals to overhaul the EU’s failed asylum laws could face large fines for each asylum seeker rejected.
One document seen by The Associated Press shows that the fines — dubbed a “solidarity contribution” — could total 250,000 euros ($287,300) for each asylum seeker a country turns down. Officials said the total could still change ahead of the final decision expected later Wednesday.
The penalties are part of a European Commission plan to be made public Wednesday to more evenly share the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict and violence in places like Syria, with the current asylum system on the verge of collapse.
The plan still has to be accepted by a large majority of member countries — around two-thirds under the bloc’s qualified majority system — and EU lawmakers. The fine will prove controversial as some countries already vehemently oppose the current EU scheme to share 160,000 refugees in Greece and Italy. Hungary has even moved to hold a referendum on the issue.