Greece's migration minister Dimitris Vitsas speaks during a news conference in Athens, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. Vitsas has warned that mainstream political parties across Europe are adopting a "xenophobic agenda" to maintain voter support. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

The Latest: EU border guards may be deployed in Macedonia

July 18, 2018 - 8:59 am

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

5:45 p.m.

The European Union and Macedonia have agreed to allow EU border guards to be deployed in Macedonia if the country, which borders Greece, faces "sudden migratory challenges."

The deal, initialed by EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Macedonian interior minister Oliver Spasovski Wednesday, will allow the EU's border agency to carry out joint operations with Macedonia.

Although now officially closed, what became known as the Western Balkan route which went from Greece to Macedonia and then northward into central Europe is still used by migrants, many of whom rely on smugglers, to try and reach wealthier EU countries.

In a press statement, Avramopoulos said the deal with Macedonia will allow the European Agency to "fully exercise its potential, reacting swiftly to migratory challenges."

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5:30 p.m.

The European Union's Migrations Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has said that he was shocked by television footage of two dead migrants found off the Libyan coast a day earlier.

Avramopoulos on Wednesday said that "Every life lost is one too many, and that was our main priority from the very first moment, to save lives," adding that the EU operation in the Mediterranean has saved about 600,000 lives so far.

He was speaking at a news conference on the Commission's decision on visa liberalization for Kosovo.

The commissioner said they are still negotiating with Libya "to enable this country to conduct rescue missions and operations in line with international standards."

He added that he was unaware of any country on either side of the Mediterranean that is willing to host migrant disembarkation centers.

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4:30 p.m.

German authorities plan to bring back to Germany an Afghan asylum-seeker who apparently was deported mistakenly while legal proceedings were still ongoing in his case.

Interior ministry spokeswoman Eleonore Petermann told news agency dpa on Wednesday that the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees plans to take "the necessary steps" for the 20-year-old man's return to Germany.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that the migration office had misidentified the man and that authorities in northeastern Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state, where he lived, hadn't been aware of the mistake. According to broadcaster NDR, he was one of 69 people deported to Afghanistan on July 3.

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3:50 p.m.

A Turkish Cypriot official says the death toll from a capsized boat believed to be carrying as many as 150 migrants has increased by three more to 19.

Tolga Atakan, transport minister in the breakaway north of ethnically divided Cyprus, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that rescue crews are still looking for 26 missing passengers.

A total of 105 people were rescued and have been airlifted to Turkey.

Atakan said one seriously injured person is being treated at a Turkish Cypriot hospital in the northern part of the capital, Nicosia.

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3:30 p.m.

Spain says it has authorized a charity rescue vessel carrying two dead bodies and a survivor from a migrant boat wreck to dock in the port of Palma de Mallorca, after rescuers refused to dock in an Italian port.

Spanish rescue group Proactiva Open Arms accuses Libya's coast guards of abandoning the three people in the Mediterranean Sea. On Wednesday, the group said it can't trust how Italian authorities will handle the investigation into the wreckage after the country's interior minister, Matteo Salvini, referred to the group's claims and account of the rescue operation as "lies and insults."

A spokeswoman with Spain's government who was not authorized to be named in media reports said the Open Arms boat was expected to dock in the capital of Spain's Balearic Islands on Saturday.

Italy's new populist government has vowed to close its ports to aid organizations it blames for encouraging migrant flows across the Mediterranean because human traffickers rely on the rescuers. Rome and the European Union have also trained and financed the Libyan coast guard to halt the flow.

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3: 20 p.m.

Turkish Cypriot official says 16 people have drowned and 105 have been rescued from a boat that capsized off Cyprus' northern coastline.

The official said rescue crews were searching Wednesday for another 25-30 people where the boat overturned around 48 kilometers (30 miles) off Cyprus' Karpas peninsula.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said one seriously injured person was being treated in a hospital on Cyprus.

The survivors were airlifted by Turkish helicopters to Mersin, Turkey.

The official said authorities believe that an estimated 147-150 people were aboard the boat.

The official did not however confirm that everyone aboard the boat were migrants.

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1:45 p.m.

Hungary's foreign minister says his country will pull out of a United Nations accord on migration to be adopted in December because it goes against Hungary's security interests.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto says Wednesday that the U.N.'s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, whose final draft was released last week, also goes against common sense and that Hungary has doubts about the accord's non-binding status.

Under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, elected in April to his third consecutive term, and fourth overall, Hungary has adopted strict anti-migration measures and has made it very difficult for refugees to obtain asylum.

The U.N. document is a "non-legally binding, cooperative framework" meant to foster "international cooperation among all relevant actors on migration, acknowledging that no state can address migration alone, and upholds the sovereignty of states and their obligations under international law."

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12:10 p.m.

The German government is launching a new drive to declare Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia "safe countries of origin" in hopes of making it easier to return rejected asylum-seekers and deterring others.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government first sought two years ago to have the North African countries declared safe, following several Balkan nations in 2015. The designation means a country is assumed to be safe unless an applicant can prove persecution.

That bid failed in parliament's upper house, where the government doesn't control a majority.

Merkel's new Cabinet initiated new legislation Wednesday to declare the three countries and Georgia safe.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the government plans to do the same this fall for other countries from which fewer than 5 percent of applicants are granted asylum. He didn't identify them.

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11:25 a.m.

Greece's migration minister has warned that mainstream political parties across Europe are adopting a "xenophobic agenda" to maintain voter support.

Dimitris Vitsas on Wednesday said the shift in policy had occurred despite a sharp drop in refugee and migrant arrivals in the European Union since 2015.

Vitsas called on traditionally dominant political parties in the EU, on the center-left and center-right, to work more closely on immigration and defend "European values."

He called on the EU to exert greater pressure on member states opted out of migration settlement schemes, including Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.

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11:05 a.m.

An aid group says it won't dock its boat in an Italian port and that instead it's seeking a go-ahead to disembark in Spain with the woman who survived a migrant boat wreck and the dead bodies of another woman and a toddler.

Spanish rescue group Proactiva Open Arms has accused Libya's coast guards and the Italian authorities financing and training them of abandoning the three people in the Mediterranean Sea on Monday after taking 158 other migrants from the boat and destroying it.

Proactiva said on Wednesday that it can't trust how Italian authorities will handle the investigation into the event after the country's interior minister, Matteo Salvini, referred to the group's claims and account of the rescue operation as "lies and insults."

Italy's new populist government has vowed to halt the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.

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