Serbian police detain 16 suspected people-smugglers


BRUSSELS (AP) – The Latest on the flow of migrants into Europe (all times local):

11:50 a.m.

Serbian police say they have cracked a people-smuggling ring and detained 16 people suspected of illegally transferring migrants into the Balkan country and on toward the European Union.

Police said Thursday the suspects are from the southern municipality of Bujanovac, close to the border with Macedonia. The statement says they face charges of illegal border crossing and people-smuggling.

The state intelligence agency also took part in the investigation.

Serbia has stepped up its crackdown on people-smugglers as part of efforts to curb the influx from Macedonia and Bulgaria of migrants fleeing war and poverty.

Thousands remain stranded in Serbia looking for ways to cross into neighboring EU states Hungary or Croatia. Countries closed their borders for free entry of migrants in March.


11:40 a.m.

Two Belgian police officers have been briefly detained by their French colleagues as they returned a group of migrants to French soil, in an incident that caused tensions between the neighbors.

French authorities in northern France said the two policemen were arrested on Tuesday after they crossed the border near the town of Nieppe. They had been driving a vehicle carrying 13 migrants.

A spokesman for France’s northern department of Nord said in a statement that “French authorities have expressed their utter disapproval following this initiative which does not comply with the usual working practices between France and Belgium.”

The two police officers were released after being interviewed by French police, while the migrants – including three minors – have been kept in custody for checks.


11:25 a.m.

The rights group Amnesty International has slammed Europe’s response to the refugee crisis in a new report on the situation in Greece, which has been the main point of entry of migrants and refugees seeking to reach the European Union.

Amnesty said Thursday that most of the roughly 60,000 people stranded in Greece are living in “appalling conditions” and face “immense and avoidable suffering.”

The group criticized Europe for failing to fulfill commitments to relocate refugees from the countries they arrived in, saying only 4,000 people have been relocated instead of the 66,400 promised over two years.

Amnesty called on Greece to improve conditions and on European countries to speed up the relocation process, saying it will take 18 years at the current rate to fulfil relocation pledges.


10:55 a.m.

The head of the European Union’s executive arm has lashed out at member countries for failing take refugees from overwhelmed Greece and Italy often because the migrants are Muslims.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Thursday that some EU states believe that “we are Catholic countries. We don’t have any room for Muslims.”

Juncker said “I find that kind of reasoning unacceptable. People come first, then religion. It’s not religion first, then people.”

EU nations voted in September 2015 to share over two years 160,000 refugees in Greece, Italy and any other country unable to cope with migrant arrivals. So far, only around 5,000 refugees have been relocated. At that rate it would take almost two decades to meet the goal.

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