EU leaders call for mandatory refugee quotas to combat crisis


Stockholm/Berlin (dpa) – EU leaders on Tuesday urged mandatory refugee quotas for the bloc’s 28 states, as frustrated migrants pushed through police lines at a reception camp in southern Hungary and thronged trains to Western Europe in Budapest.

The mounting crisis will not be solved “tomorrow, or next week, but as soon as possible,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin after meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

Lofven said the two countries “have not shut their eyes” to refugees, most of them from Syria, and stressed the need for an orderly system to distribute them fairly across the European Union.

Sweden has said it expected to take in 80,000 asylum seekers this year, while Germany projects 800,000.

But leaders in Germany have said its estimate is sure to be surpassed given the persistently high numbers of new arrivals.

“We’re all aware it will not remain at 800,000,” Hannelore Kraft, the premier of the state of North Rhine Westphalia, said Tuesday.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said that he thinks Europe’s strongest economy can handle at least half a million migrants per year for the next several years.

The European Union has struggled to cope with the surge of people entering the bloc, with some countries taking more hostile stances against the newcomers and leaders divided on how to manage the crisis.

“One should not deal in threats,” Merkel said when asked at a press conference if pressure should be put on countries opposing the introduction of a quota system.

Hundreds of migrants tried to get on trains bound for Western Europe at the Keleti station in Budapest on Tuesday, Hungarian media reported, with scuffles breaking out as police blocked them from overcrowding the trains.

Hungary last week suspended international train lines because of the large number of migrants seeking to travel to Austria and then on to Germany, the preferred destination for most.

In blocking their movement, Hungary had cited EU rules that require asylum seekers to file applications in the first EU state they arrive in. Hungary waived that requirement at the weekend after consultations with Berlin and Vienna.

On Hungary’s border with Serbia, migrants broke through a police cordon at a registration camp in the village of Roszke on Tuesday. Several hundred are reported by local media to be following the highway and railway toward Budapest. Police have not blocked their path.

As the flow of refugees in Europe continues unabated, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann added his voice to EU leaders calling for the refugee burden to divided among the bloc’s members.

“It’s unacceptable for the EU that some countries are not contributing to a common solution, just because they are not directly affected” Faymann said, referring to some Central and Eastern European countries opposed to a quota system, such as Hungary.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday his country will take in 20,000 Syrians over five years. In France, President Francois Hollande said 24,000 refugees would be accepted over two years.

In Greece, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said the number of refugees on the country’s islands has surged to a total of 30,000. Around 20,000 of them are on Lesbos alone, spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said in Geneva.

The UNHRCR said close to 10,000 people entered Macedonia from Greece in the first week of September and 7,720 passed from Macedonia to Serbia. Around 40 per cent of the people were women and children.

Virtually all of the migrants regard Macedonia and Serbia as transit countries, as they intend to enter the EU border-free Schengen zone in Hungary and seek asylum in wealthy countries, most of all Germany.

In Denmark, police reported that more than 1,300 people have arrived from neighbouring Germany since Sunday. Trains from Germany have been halted as police in both Denmark and Germany checked identities.

Denmark has in recent years introduced tougher restrictions for asylum seekers. The country is also not part of the common European refugee policy due to opt-outs from the bloc’s justice and home affairs rules it has had since 1993.

In Washington, the White House said it will consider more aid to help refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, including increasing the number of refugees welcomed into the US and providing help to European allies, but offered few details.