THESSALONIKI, Greece — The Latest on the influx of migrants in Europe (all times local):
Macedonian police say they have found 44 migrants hidden in a truck on a highway in center of the country.
Police said Friday they had pursued the vehicle late Wednesday until the driver stopped the van near a highway tunnel. The 44 migrants — 10 Syrians, 20 Pakistanis, 12 Afghans and two Indian — were found inside the vehicle, while the driver fled and evaded arrest.
The migrants were detained for questioning in southern Macedonian town of Gevgleija, near the border with Greece. Police gave no other details of where the migrants had traveled from.
Authorities say migrant smuggling has increased in a recent months.
The head of Tunisia’s Red Crescent aid group has warned the condition of 40 migrants stranded on a boat stuck in the Mediterranean Sea has deteriorated as the vessel has been refused docking access for days.
Mongi Slim told The Associated Press Friday that the migrants have been stranded at sea for at least nine days and “the sanitary and psychological situation is very bad.”
The migrants include nationals from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal and Egypt. Tunisian authorities are still deciding whether to grant the boat entry after Italy, Malta and France refused.
The migrants reportedly were at sea for five days before a Maltese ship picked them up and transferred them Monday to the Tunisian-flagged Sarost 5.
Bulgaria is rejecting signing bilateral deals with other European Union countries to readmit migrants who entered the EU through the Balkan country.
Backed by a vast majority of legislators across party lines, Parliament on Friday approved a resolution barring the government from signing readmission agreements and proposed reforms to the EU’s asylum rules.
Currently, migrants are supposed to be returned to the countries where they first entered the EU and applied for asylum, but such regulations have been rarely enforced.
Bulgaria, which has sealed off its border with Turkey with a barbed wire fence to prevent the country becoming the new gateway to Europe, is now calling for the closure of all external EU borders to migrants and for setting up refugee camps in Libya and Turkey.
Hungarian lawmakers have approved a 25 percent tax on financial or material support for groups promoting migration. The special tax embodies the anti-migrant policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who says that the mass entry into Europe by mainly Muslim migrants threatens the continent’s Christian culture.
The bill, passed Friday as part of wider changes to Hungary’s tax laws, says revenues from the new tax can be used only on border defense.
According to the bill, the promotion of migration includes media campaigns, seminars and “propaganda activities presenting immigration in a positive light.”
Revenues from the special tax are meant to offset state expenditures resulting from increased migration, supposedly caused by the aid groups’ activities.
Amnesty International said the new levy is a punitive tax on organizations “which think and say differently from the government on migration.”
Spain’s Maritime Rescue Service says Friday has been one of the busiest days for rescuers so far in July, with 450 people rescued while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from northern Africa.
The service says 294 migrants were navigating the Strait of Gibraltar, the closest stretch of water between African and European shores, aboard 17 boats. It said the number could still be higher because two more boats are still missing.
In the so-called Alboran Sea, an area further east into the Mediterranean, 156 migrants including 30 women and six children were rescued from three boats.
The United Nations migration agency, IOM, says more than 18,000 migrants reached Spain by sea from the beginning of 2018 until mid-July, with nearly 800 of them rescued on June 29.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has praised the work of private groups rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, saying “they’ve saved an unbelievable number of lives.”
Speaking to reporters in Berlin on Friday, Merkel said “naturally I appreciate the work of civilian maritime rescuers,” adding: “provided they respect the law.”
Groups such as the German organization Mission Lifeline have come under criticism from Italy and Malta for allegedly entering Libyan waters to rescue migrants.
Asked about reports of mistreatment of migrants at the hands of Libyan coast guards, Merkel said these should be investigated.
She said those countries providing training to the North African nation’s authorities “are in a sense taking on responsibility for the Libyan coast guard.”
Greek police boats are searching along the Evros River on the Greek-Turkish border for a second day for a Turkish woman and her three young children missing since the boat they were using to cross the border capsized.
Shore-based rescue crews were also searching Friday for the 36-year-old woman and her three sons, aged around 6, 4 and 1. They had fled Turkey for Greece along with the woman’s husband and four others, all Turkish.
The other five, including the woman’s husband, survived and managed to swim to the Greek side of the border, where Greek authorities picked them up Thursday.
Hundreds of Turks have sought asylum in Greece since a crackdown by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the wake of a failed 2016 coup against him.