PARIS (AP) — The Latest on global migration and World Refugee Day (all times local):
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that the number of refugees worldwide is “simply unthinkable” and that people fleeing is “a central global question of our time.”
The U.N. refugee agency reported Tuesday that nearly 69 million people fleeing war, violence and persecution were forcibly displaced last year, a record for the fifth straight year.
Merkel said Wednesday in Berlin that Germany stands by both its obligation to protect people fleeing war and terrorism and its commitment to keeping Europe together. The European Union has been deeply divided over how to respond to migration, and the chancellor herself faces calls from within her government to turn back some migrants unilaterally at the border.
Merkel said: “However you cut it, migration is a European challenge — perhaps our greatest challenge at the moment.”
A boat carrying nine migrants, including a minor, overturned while attempting to cross the Drina river from Serbia into Bosnia. Police said no one was injured in the accident early Wednesday near the eastern Bosnian town of Zvornik.
Migrants trying to reach Western Europe have recently started passing through Bosnia to avoid other, more heavily guarded routes through the Balkans.
Authorities in the war-ravaged country have struggled with the influx of more than 5,000 people this year from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Migrants come into Bosnia from Serbia or Montenegro.
In Serbia, the government’s refugee agency says that nearly 3,000 migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria are currently staying in the country’s asylum centers. The report says one quarter of them are children.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country will soon take over the European Union’s rotating presidency, says he hopes a weekend mini-summit will address an “overdue” solution to the continent’s issues with migration.
Officials say Germany, France, Italy and Greece, among others, will attend Sunday’s gathering in Brussels to look into finding European solutions to political clashes over migration. The issue is particularly pressing for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces pressure in her own governing coalition to take a tougher line.
Kurz, whose country takes over the EU presidency July 1, said Wednesday that the gathering “is not about German domestic politics, it’s about a solution of the migration question that is long overdue.”
Kurz said it will address questions such as “how we protect the (EU) external borders, how do we prevent waving (migrants) through to central Europe.”
Pope Francis is urging people not to “let fear get in the way of welcoming our neighbor in need.”
The pope said in a Twitter message tagged with the hashtag “WithRefugees” said “we encounter Jesus in those who are poor, rejected and refugees.”
Wednesday’s message on World Refugee Day comes as the Trump administration has faced criticism for separating children of parents seeking asylum in the United States at the border, and as the new Italian government has taken a hard-line stand on migrants, refusing to allow an NGO-run ship with some 630 migrants rescued at sea to make landfall in Italy. They have since been welcomed by Spain.
Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Cyprus have for the first time issued a joint call for acceptance and support of refugees arriving to the small, ethnically divided island nation.
In a video message issued for World Refugee Day, the religious leaders called on individuals to welcome refugees who are forced to flee their homelands and urged authorities to work to end their plight.
The message includes brief statements form the leaders of Cyprus’ Greek Orthodox, Latin, Armenian and Maronite churches and the Mufti who heads the island’s Muslim community.
Although Cyprus hasn’t seen the huge influx of migrants arriving from neighboring Syria, the United Nations refugee agency says the island has just over 1,300 registered refugees, nearly 8,000 individuals who have been granted subsidiary protection and another 5,400 people seeking asylum.
Germany, France and other key European nations hit by the migration crisis will hold an informal mini summit on Sunday.
The European Commission announced Wednesday that several government leaders will be gathering in Brussels to look into “finding European solutions” to solve the political crisis that has pitted many EU nations against one another.
Officials said Germany, France, Italy and Greece would attend. The officials declined to be identified because the mini summit is still in its planning stage.
A full summit of the bloc’s 28 government leaders that will focus on migration is set for June 28-29.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella says it is up to a united European Union to manage the arrival of refugees forced to flee their homelands.
In a message for World Refugee Day Wednesday, Mattarella said “the international community must work with shared and long-term political choices to manage a phenomenon that involves the entire world. The European Union in particular must know how to intervene, without delegating to the countries of first-arrival the responsibility to confront the emergency.”
The comments come as Italy’s new hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, presses Europe to relieve Italy of the burden of arrivals, making his point by refusing port to an aid agency’s rescue boat with some 630 migrants onboard.
Salvini is meeting later with the Italian premier to discuss Italy’s position on the migrant issue at an upcoming EU summit. The leader of the anti-migrant League has long argued the majority of those rescued at sea are economic migrants, not refugees.
Asylum claims rose sharply in the United States last year but migration declined overall in the developed world for the first time since 2011, according to a new report from an economic organization representing the world’s wealthiest countries.
Asylum claims rose 26 percent in the United States, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Wednesday, adding that migration for economic and political reasons is unlikely to diminish in coming years. The group said countries need to find ways to prepare their native-born populations and integrate new foreign residents.
The report found a growing share of the population in the OECD’s 35 member countries, including the United States and Western Europe, was born abroad — up from 9 percent in 2000 to 13 percent in 2017.