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Refugee crisis: Thousands gather at Austrian border

About 8,000 asylum seekers have gathered in the Austrian border town of Nickelsdorf, most of them crossing over from Hungary on Sunday. Meanwhile, disasters at sea killed at least 13 people, as desperate people fleeing war and poverty braved the risky journey to seek sanctuary in Europe.

UN calls for increased international response to crisis

Refugees whose boat stalled at sea while crossing from Turkey to Greece swim toward the shore of the Greek island of Lesbos on Sunday. (Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press)

About 8,000 asylum seekers have gathered in the Austrian border town of Nickelsdorf, most of them crossing over from Hungary on Sunday.

They all lined up in a town square waiting for buses to relocate them. Austrian soldiers formed a barrier around them while local officials struggled to find accommodation for them because many camps were already overcrowded.

Mahat, a lab technician from Damascus, was among those waiting.

"We came here only to get a new life," said Mahat, who didn't want to give his last name fearing repercussions by Syria's government.

The 47-year-old said he didn't care where in Europe he would end up as long as he could live in peace and find a job.

The Austrian news agency APA reported that about 15,000 refugees were expected to cross into Austria from Hungary via Nickelsdorf this weekend.

Meanwhile, disasters at sea claimed the lives of dozens of refugees on Sunday, as desperate people fleeing war and poverty braved the risky journey to seek sanctuary in Europe.

Thirteen refugees died after their boat collided with a ferry off the Turkish coast, officials there said, while the Greek coast guard fanned out in the choppy waters of the Aegean Sea searching for another 24 people missing after their boat sank off the island of Lesbos.

Coast guard officials said nearly three dozen people were rescued in the two incidents, which followed another sinking near Lesbos Saturday, in which a 5-year-old girl drowned. Two bodies were found in Greek waters, but authorities aren't yet sure which shipwreck killed them.

The events highlight the risks that those fleeing the Middle East, Africa and Asia are willing to take in hopes of reaching sanctuary in Europe. Men, women and children continue to take the perilous sea journey despite the fact that thousands of earlier refugees find themselves blocked by closed border crossings in the Balkans.

UN calls for more aid

The United Nations' humanitarian chief is calling on the international community to step up its support to Syrian refugees. Stephen O'Brien says in particular, Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries need more help, saying a disproportionate burden has fallen on them.

There are 630,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan, according to the UN. O'Brien visited the Za'atari camp, Jordan's largest, which has about 80,000 refugees.

"Syria's neighbours are reaching the point where the rest of the world urgently must share more of the responsibility in responding to the humanitarian needs created by the Syria crisis and support the most vulnerable people," he said.

 The UN has appealed for $7.4 billion US in aid, but says only 38 per cent of the essential funding has been received so far.   

Hungary building more walls

Hungary's decision to shut its border with Serbia on Sept. 15 set off a chain reaction in Croatia and Slovenia that has forced people fleeing violence in their homelands to rush from one European border to the next as they desperately try to find their way north before the rules change again.

Thousands are on the move all over southeastern Europe as authorities struggle to respond. About 15,000 refugees crossed into Austria from Hungary and Croatia over the weekend.

A man displays a sign after he and other refugees arrived at the border between Austria and Hungary near Heiligenkreuz on Sunday. (Christian Bruna/Associated Press)
Hungary erected yet another steel barrier, now at Beremend border post with Croatia, complete with a giant steel door to control the flow of people. The gate slowed the flow. But they just kept coming.

Conditions along the borders worsened, as days of intense heat gave way to rain and plummeting temperatures. Along the border in the Croatian town of Tovarnik, volunteers handed out tents and warm clothes

"Unfortunately we sleep here on the ground without anything. It was very cold," Muhammad Dakiri, a Syrian migrant, said. "Suddenly the weather has turned to cold and raining. We couldn't sleep well because in an hour or half an hour we wake up because we're feeling cold."

Hungarian, Romanian ministers trade barbs

Meanwhile, leaders all across the region are sniping at one another, underscoring the sense of crisis and disarray in the days before European leaders meet to discuss the crisis.

Hungary's erection of razor-wire fences is deeply straining its ties with neighbouring countries, who feel the problem of the huge flow of refugees is being unfairly pushed onto them. After completing a fence along the border with Serbia, Hungary is now building fences along its borders with Croatia and Romania.

After lashing out against Croatian officials, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is now trading barbs with his Romanian counterpart over the fence.

Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu on Saturday called the border closure an "autistic and unacceptable act" that violated the spirit of the European Union.

"We would expect more modesty from a foreign minister whose prime minister is currently facing trial," Szijjarto said. That was a reference to corruption charges filed recently against Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

"We are a state that is more than 1,000 years old that throughout its history has had to defend not only itself, but Europe as well many times," Szijjarto added. "That's the way it's going to be now, whether the Romanian foreign minister likes it or not."

The Hungarian Foreign Ministry has called in the Romanian ambassador for a consultation on Monday.

A woman, with her son, asks to be allowed to cross the borders from the northern Greek village of Idomeni to southern Macedonia on Sunday. (Giannis Papanikos/Associated Press)

with files from CBC News

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