French gendarmes and associations members count migrants as they are clearing out a makeshift camp along side of the canal Saint Martin, in central Paris, France, Monday, June 4, 2018. French police have evacuated around 500 migrants, mostly Afghans but some Africans from a makeshift tent encampment. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

The Latest: Tunisian leader heads to smuggling island

June 05, 2018 - 10:18 am

BERLIN (AP) — The Latest on immigration into Europe (all times local):

5:15 p.m.

Tunisia's prime minister has traveled to an island off the Tunisian coast to oversee search operations after a small smugglers' boat packed with migrants capsized in the Mediterranean over the weekend, leaving an estimated 112 people dead or missing.

The search for the missing reopened Tuesday after being temporarily called off for bad weather.

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed went to the Ile of Kerkennah, off the coast of Sfax, after the number of victims climbed and his government was criticized for not grasping the extent of the tragedy.

Chahed's office announced a day earlier that eight smugglers implicated in the weekend disaster had been identified — all from the Ile de Kerkennah.

The International Organization for Migration has counted 60 confirmed deaths, 52 people still missing and 68 survivors from the capsizing off Tunisia.


5 p.m.

Greece's coast guard says a search and rescue operation is underway for a boat reportedly carrying 21 people believed to be migrants in the Ionian Sea, west of the Greek mainland.

Four patrol boats and a coast guard rescue vessel were searching northwest of the island of Corfu after one of the passengers called Greek emergency services and reported their boat was in trouble.

Thousands of migrants continue to reach Greece from the nearby Turkish coast, and rescue operations are often carried out in the Aegean Sea. Such incidents are rare to the west of the mainland, however, from where migrants sometimes attempt to smuggle themselves to nearby Italy.


4:50 p.m.

Greek authorities say they have rescued 34 migrants, including seven children, who were trapped on an islet on the border river that separates Greece from Turkey.

Police said the migrants, who said they were from Syria, spent about two hours marooned on the islet on the Greek side of the Evros River. They were located after making an emergency call to Greek authorities on Tuesday morning.

It was unclear how they became stuck on the islet. The Evros is a major crossing point for migrants and refugees seeking to enter Greece — and thence move on to Europe's prosperous heartland — from Turkey.


4:45 p.m.

Hungarian lawmakers have begun debating a constitutional amendment and the so-called "Stop Soros" law, both nominally meant to strengthen the anti-migration policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government.

Among its articles, the seventh constitutional amendment limits refugees' access to asylum and declares that "foreign populations cannot be settled in Hungary."

The other bill threatens with up to a year in prison for human rights advocates — some supported by George Soros— who work with asylum-seekers.

Orban blames Soros and the civic groups he supports, like the Hungarian Helsinki Foundation, of fomenting large-scale mainly Muslim migration into Europe. Soros and those groups deny the charges.

Opening Tuesday's debate on the constitutional amendment, Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi said the revision would "guarantee the defense of the sovereignty of our state and of our national identity."


3 p.m.

Bavaria plans to charter its own flights to deport rejected asylum-seekers, as elections in the conservative southern German state loom this fall.

Governor Markus Soeder says the flights are among numerous measures intended to speed up the asylum process that will be put in place from August.

Soeder told reporters Tuesday that Bavaria will also create seven large camps — so-called anchor centers — where applicants will have to live until their asylum requests have been processed.

Bavaria was the main entry point for hundreds of thousands of refugees who came to Germany after traveling through southern Europe in 2015 and 2016.

Soeder's governing Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only arm of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Union bloc, faces pressure from the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party in Oct. 14 state election.


1:55 p.m.

The U.N. migration agency says the weekend capsizing off Tunisia of an overloaded smuggling boat is now believed to have killed 112 migrants, making it the deadliest shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea this year.

Spokesman Leonard Doyle of the International Organization for Migration says it counts 60 confirmed deaths and 52 people missing and presumed dead from the capsizing off the eastern city of Sfax. Sixty-eight people survived.

Doyle said Tuesday the toll makes the capsizing "the single biggest incident of dead and missing this year" on the Mediterranean, after two other shipwrecks off the Libyan coast in January and February that each left 100 people dead or missing and presumed dead.

IOM says Tunisians make up most migrants now attempting the crossing in the central Mediterranean route toward Italy.


1:35 p.m.

U.N. agencies say at least 100 migrants are now believed to have died after an overcrowded smuggling boat capsized off Tunisia last weekend.

The shipwreck is believed to be the most deadly on the Mediterranean Sea this year.

The estimate came Tuesday from the International Organization for Migration and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees for the boat that sank off the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax. Tunisian authorities initially said 46 people had been confirmed dead but that dozens remained missing.

Spokesman William Spinder of UNHCR said Tuesday that 52 people have been confirmed dead and "about 60" others are believed dead. He said rescue operations were suspended amid bad weather.

Before the tragedy, UNHCR had estimated that 646 people had died trying to cross the sea to Europe this year.


1:15 p.m.

Denmark's prime minister says a new European asylum system can be in place as soon as next year and asylum-seekers whose applications have been rejected could be sent to a country "that is not on the migrant's wish list."

Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, who gave no further details besides that fact that several European countries have discussed the plan, spoke Tuesday on Denmark's Constitution Day. Danish lawmakers from all political parties hold speeches across the country to mark the signing of the 1849 Constitution.

The prime minister said the plan "would have a huge preventive effect," adding that a pilot project could be presented before the end of the year.

— This item corrects the date of the Danish constitution of 1849.


1 p.m.

European Union countries remain deeply divided over how to reform the bloc's asylum system as an end of June deadline approaches for updating rules central to handling mass influxes of refugees.

Well over 1 million people, mostly Syrians fleeing conflict, entered Europe in 2015, overwhelming Greece and Italy. Their entry strained relations among EU neighbors and fueled anti-migrant sentiment.

Dutch Migration Minister Mark Harbers said in Luxembourg that there are "a lot of member states that still have points of discussion" with the latest proposals. EU leaders want the problem resolved this month.

Germany's deputy interior minister, Stephan Mayer, says "there are still considerable deficits" in the proposals.

Belgian Migration Minister Theo Francken says that if no solution is found to managing migrant arrivals, "Europe will end, and we will never get out of this crisis."


10:45 a.m.

Authorities in southern Germany have arrested two Syrian men on suspicion of people smuggling.

Prosecutors in Stuttgart say the two men, aged 31 and 33, were arrested in the nearby Ludwigsburg region.

Police also searched 10 premises in two German states.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that their investigation is focusing on nine men aged between 29 and 52. Five are said to be Syrian, with the others hailing from Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Germany.

The 33-year-old is accused of helping Syrians and Iraqis illegally enter Germany. Prosecutors discovered the smuggling ring while investigating him for alleged past membership of Syria's Nusra Front.

The 31-year-old is alleged to have provided fake documents for migrants and obtained fraudulent loans.

The unnamed men are accused of trying to establish "a long-term source of income."

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