Up to 500 people feared dead after shipwreck in Mediterranean Sea, UN Refugee Agency says

The U.N. refugee agency says up to 500 people are feared dead in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea last week.

UNHCR says the disaster happened in the waters between Italy and Libya, based on accounts from survivors rescued on April 16.

The 41 survivors - 37 men, three women and a 3-year-old child - were rescued by a merchant ship and taken to Kalamata, in the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece. Those rescued include 23 Somalis, 11 Ethiopians, 6 Egyptians and a Sudanese.

3:10 p.m.

A fire broke out in a refugee camp in northern Greece Wednesday, burning more than a dozen tents and sparking a protest by refugees. Police said at least two people were taken to a hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.

The blaze started from a tent in the Diavata camp, near the northern city of Thessaloniki, and spread to others, leaving at least 13 dwellings burnt. It was not immediately clear what sparked the fire, which firefighters extinguished. The fire sparked a protest by about 100 people in the camp, with half of them spilling out onto the road and attempting to block traffic.

Just over 2,300 refugees live in the camp. About 54,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece after Europe closed its land borders to the massive refugee flow.

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2:40 p.m.

Austria's president has told lawmakers that his country received more asylum applications in 2015 than it saw births, highlighting the demographic fears driving Europe's chaotic response to mass migration from the Middle East and elsewhere.

In a speech Wednesday to the Council of Europe, President Heinz Fischer says there were 88,000 asylum applications last year, which would be about 1 percent of the small Alpine country's population of 8.5 million people. Austria's statistics body put the number of live births at roughly 82,000 in 2014.

Fischer says that "cannot become a permanent state of affairs."

Austria has sparked a domino effect of border closures across the Balkans, prompting a pile-up of migrants in Greece that sparked a recent European Union deal with Turkey to combat the migrant influx.

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1:50 p.m.

The European Union says Turkey must meet a number of conditions within two weeks if it wants to secure visa-free travel in Europe for its citizens before July.

The EU's migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said Wednesday that "if we continue working like this most of the benchmarks will be met."

The offer of visa-free travel by the end of June is one of several incentives the EU has offered Turkey to stop migrants coming to Europe.

Turkish leaders have said the whole migrant deal will collapse if the EU fails to grant a visa waiver.

The European Commission is to present a new visa liberalization report on May 4. If Turkey has met the requirements by then the Commission will propose that it be put on the visa-free list.

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1:15 p.m.

The European Union's statistics agency says that EU countries granted asylum to more than 330,000 applicants last year, as more than 1 million people arrived in search of sanctuary or jobs.

Eurostat said Wednesday that 333,350 people were granted international protection, a 72 percent increase over 2014.

Around half of them - 166,100 people - were Syrian citizens, while 27,600 came from Eritrea and 23,700 from Iraq.

Germany, Sweden, Italy and France approved most applications. Germany took in 60 percent of the Syrians, the agency says.

Eurostat did not say how many of the approved asylum applications were made before 2015, nor did it say how many applications from last year are still pending.

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12:25 p.m.

Human Rights Watch has urged Turkey to allow Syrians displaced by government shelling to cross the border to safety.

It says the Syrian army hit two migrant camps on April 13 and 15, triggering an exodus of 3,000 people.

Last week, the rights group said Turkish border guards had shot at Syrians escaping an Islamic State offensive. Turkey, home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees, rejects the claim and says it has an open-door policy toward migrants, but new arrivals are rare.

Rights groups have repeatedly slammed a new Turkey-EU deal to curtail the flood of refugees into Europe, raising questions about the safety of Syrian refugees on both sides of the Turkish border.

The rights group says tens of thousands of civilians are trapped along Turkey's border.
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