- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) - The latest news as tens of thousands of people enter the European Union in search of a better life. All times local.

6:05 p.m.

The prime ministers of four central European countries say they want to preserve the European visa-free Schengen zone that is threatened by the current wave of migrants.

After meeting his counterparts from Hungary, Poland and Slovakia in Prague on Thursday, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the four have agreed to create a “Friends of Schengen” group in the EU.

The group should “intensively work for the European Union to be effectively able to protect the outer Schengen border.”

Viktor Orban says: “We would like to maintain the freedom of movement” in the EU. Orban says he doesn’t know how many will join the initiative, but “I think it will be a lot of us.”

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico says he has doubts some countries are able to do their job properly to guard the border. He named Greece as an example, adding the four countries are ready to help.

The four countries oppose an EU mandatory plan to distribute migrants among members of the bloc.

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6 p.m.

The United Nations refugee agency says it’s “deeply concerned” about the violence at the border between Greece and Macedonia where scuffles have broken out between different migrant groups.

UNHCR said it was also saddened by the death at the border Thursday of a Moroccan man, under unclear circumstances, and said the incident underlined the need for authorities to restore security.

Macedonian authorities are allowing only people from the war-wracked countries of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq to cross from Greece on their way to other European Union countries. Migrants from other countries have protested the practice and blocked the crossing since Wednesday.

UNHCR said it had made transportation available for migrants who were being blocked at the border to return to Athens.

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4:45 p.m.

Greek authorities say they have recovered the body of a woman and are still searching for three other missing migrants after their small boat sank in the eastern Aegean Sea.

The boat was carrying a total of seven migrants, and the coast guard says three survivors were pulled from the sea after Thursday’s capsizing off the island of Farmakonissi. The nationalities of the migrants were not immediately known.

Greece is at the forefront of Europe’s immigration crisis, with more than 700,000 people having crossed over so far this year from nearby Turkey, in rickety boats provided by smuggling gangs charging high fees. Hundreds have drowned in the effort.

On Tuesday, a 3-year-old boy died when a boat carrying 25 migrants ran aground off the eastern Greek islet of Ro. The remaining 24 people were unhurt.

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3:35 p.m.

Greek rescuers are searching for four missing migrants after a small boat with seven people on board sank off the eastern Aegean Sea island of Farmakonissi.

The coast guard says three survivors have been pulled out of the sea alive after Thursday’s accident.

Greece is at the forefront of Europe’s immigration crisis, with more than 700,000 people having crossed over so far this year from nearby Turkey, in frail boats provided by smuggling gangs charging high fees. Hundreds have drowned in the effort.

On Tuesday, a 3-year-old boy died when a boat carrying 25 migrants ran aground off the eastern Greek islet of Ro. The remaining occupants were unhurt.

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3:30 p.m.

Pressure is mounting on Greece to ensure better control of its borders and register arriving migrants or face the prospect that passport checks could be reintroduced for Greek citizens in Europe.

The European Union urged Greece on Thursday to step up controls on its sea and land borders, and EU interior ministers will discuss on Friday the state of border controls in the country.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Thursday “there are a certain number of improvements that need to be done.”

He said that “we have two weeks to make sure that this is seen, it’s tangible, it’s happening,” before the Commission submits a report on borders and migrant movements to EU leaders on Dec. 17.

Some 600,000 migrants have flooded into Greece this year, many fleeing conflict in Syria or Iraq and who entered the country from Turkey.

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1:25 p.m.

British authorities say a Palestinian man suspected to be the leader of an organized criminal gang that smuggled thousands of migrants into Europe faces extradition to Greece.

The National Crime Agency says 26-year-old Jamal Owda will appear in a London court Thursday.

Owda was one of 23 suspects arrested in Britain, Greece, Austria and Sweden in early morning raids Wednesday. Authorities say the gang, based in Greece, is believed to have earned nearly 10 million euros ($ 10.6 million) since 2013 by charging migrants for transportation, forged documents and housing.

Owda was detained in a Liverpool asylum seekers’ shelter.

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11:50 a.m.

Serbia’s prime minister has urged a joint international effort to solve the migrant crisis, warning that xenophobia and fear of extremists have been on the rise since the Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

Aleksandar Vucic said at the opening Thursday of a ministerial conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that the meeting should come up with joint conclusions and recommendations.

Vucic says “hundreds of thousands of migrants” have passed through Serbia and other countries on the so-called Balkan corridor. He adds that “fear exists of (infiltration) of foreign terrorist fighters who joined the war in Syria and Iraq and that fear has been rising, along with xenophobia.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are among world leaders attending the conference.

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11:40 a.m.

Hungary’s prime minister says the country is filing a lawsuit against the European Union objecting to a mandatory plan to distribute migrants among members of the bloc.

Viktor Orban said the suit would be filed later Thursday at the European Court of Justice. The EU is looking redistribute 120,000 asylum seekers already in the bloc among its 28 countries.

Parliament last month approved legislation obliging the government to challenge the EU quotas, while Orban has repeatedly said that Brussels overstepped its authority when it approved the scheme despite opposition from a handful of mainly Eastern European countries.

Orban earlier also described the migrant quotas as “illegal, unreasonable and unfair” and said it was wrong to force countries to take in migrants against their will.

Robert Fico, the prime minister of neighboring Slovakia, said Wednesday that his country had filed its own complaint against the EU quotas.

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10:50 a.m.

At least two people have been injured during clashes between groups of migrants and refugees on the Greek-Macedonian border.

Macedonian authorities are allowing only people from the war-wracked countries of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq to cross from Greece on their way to other European Union countries, leading to protests from those from other countries who have been blocking the crossing for all since Wednesday.

Scuffles were breaking out intermittently between groups of mainly Iranians and Pakistanis on the one hand, and groups of mainly Afghans on the other, with both sides throwing rocks. At least two men were seen with bloodied heads from the rock-throwing.

Greek riot police have been deployed in the area, forming a barrier to protect refugees waiting in a field on the Greek side to cross the border.

Greece has also sent two trains to the area to provide transport back to the capital for migrants who cannot cross and wish to return to Athens. Volunteers were handing out fliers in several languages to the waiting crowd informing of the trains.

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10:45 a.m.

A man believed to be from Morocco has died on the Greek-Macedonian border, electrocuted after touching high-power overhead railway cables when he climbed on top of a train carriage.

Other migrants lowered the man’s severely burned body to the ground and covered it with a sheet, and a volunteer doctor in the area confirmed the man had died. The doctor hurried away before giving his name.

It was not immediately clear why the man had climbed onto the train carriage, which was stationary. The death came amid scuffles between migrants and refugees following the Macedonian authorities’ closure of the border to those considered economic migrants. Macedonia is allowing only people from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to cross the border, and groups of people from other nationalities have set up makeshift roadblocks, preventing anyone from crossing.

Last Saturday, a 24-year-old Moroccan man suffered severe burns in the same way after touching an overhead cable at the railway station. His injury sparked violent protests in the border area among those waiting to cross.

More than 5,000 people of various nationalities are in the Idomeni border area.

-By Costas Kantouris

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9:40 a.m.

Migrants from Pakistan, Iran and other countries who Macedonian authorities are not allowing to cross into the country from Greece have set up roadblocks near the border, preventing refugees from crossing.

Groups of migrants on Thursday used empty barrels, pieces of wood and metal to make a barrier about 120 meters (feet) from the Greek-Macedonian border and are stopping all Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis from entering the area.

Macedonia has been allowing only people from the three countries to cross. The rest they consider economic migrants.

Scuffles broke out between migrants and refugees on the border earlier Thursday, and a refugee camp set up in the area was looted of food and water during the melee.

“Why aren’t they allowing us to cross?” asked Eli, a 30-year-old Pakistani who has been living in Greece for six years and said he wanted to go on to Germany. “We’re waiting until they open (the border). Why is there this discrimination going on? The border must either open for all or close for all.” Eli would not give his surname for fear of reprisals for manning a roadblock.

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8:30 a.m.

Scuffles have broken out between migrants and refugees at Greece’s northern border with Macedonia, after hundreds of people blockaded the crossing in protest because they were not being allowed to cross the border.

In recent days Macedonia has stopped allowing anyone except those from countries at war such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, who are considered refugees, to cross into the country from Greece.

Small groups of people from countries such as Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been blockading the crossing since Wednesday. On Thursday morning, groups of Afghans demanding to be allowed to cross scuffled with the protesters.

Greek police say there are around 2,500 refugees in the Idomeni border area who have been waiting in the nearby camp, and roughly 3,000 migrants.

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