German coalition agrees to 6-billion-euro package for migrant aid

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Berlin (dpa) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition has agreed to a multi-billion euro boost in aid to help address the surge of migrants coming into Germany as nearly 20,000 asylum seekers fleeing the war in Syria arrived in the country over the weekend.

A 6-billion-euro (6.7-billion-dollar) package agreed early Monday after late-night talks in Berlin includes 3 billion euros in the 2016 federal budget, and a further 3 billion euros are earmarked to help states and local governments accomodate the migrants. For the current year, 1 billion euros of federal money was to be made available for aid to the migrants.

Germany and Austria agreed on Saturday to take in refugees that had been so far prevented by Hungary from travelling further west, citing EU rules that require asylum seekers to file applications in the first EU state they arrive in.

Germany expects 800,000 asylum seekers this year, more than any other EU nation. The dramatic rise in arrivals has strained local authorities, who are demanding more funding from Berlin after the government said Syrians fleeing the civil war would be welcome.

Nearly 20,000 migrants, mainly refugees from Syria, had arrived in Munich from Austria since Saturday, local officials said. Nearly 13,000 arrived on Sunday alone and officials were transporting the migrants as they arrived to locations around Germany.

“We are coming to the limits of our capacity,” local government spokeswoman Simone Hilgers said.

Austria said on Sunday it would slowly reverse emergency measures that have allowed thousands of refugees to cross its border and carry on to Germany. The humanitarian measures were agreed with Merkel on Saturday to ease the crisis.

Chancellor Werner Faymann said border controls would be set up along the border with Hungary. He did not say when this would start.

Europe is divided on how to deal with its worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Germany, Austria and Sweden have faced opposition from Hungary and other eastern EU states to agree on a quota system to distribute refugees across the bloc.

Once they stepped out of trains in Munich and Frankfurt, the migrants were being sent to refugee centres across the country.

Rail operators in Austria and Germany have increased capacity to handle the influx coming from the Austrian city of Nickelsdorf near the border with Hungary, where they caught trains to cities such as Vienna and then onward to Germany.

Pope Francis called on every church, parish and monastery in Europe to take one refugee family each, adding his voice Sunday to those urging a welcoming approach to the migration crisis gripping the continent.

“Every parish, religious community, every convent, every pilgrimage site in Europe should take in a family, beginning with my diocese in Rome,” the pope said.

The refugees, many of them sick and exhausted from their treacherous weeks-long odyssey out of war-torn countries, were often greeted by Germans and Austrians with applause and cheers of “welcome,” along with food, gifts and medicine.

Austrian authorities said some 15,000 migrants had crossed the border from Hungary into Austria over the weekend.

Meanwhile some 1,000 newly arrived migrants are camped out in Budapest and it was not clear if they would be granted permission to leave and obtain transport to Austria. Several hundred others have been making the long walk to the border.

Many of the people cross into Hungary by way of Serbia. Police there said 744 migrants, including 169 children, were counted on Saturday compared to the 1,500 to 3,000 that had been arriving per day in recent weeks.

Ahead of the German government talks on the aid package, Merkel’s coalition had appeared divided over how to deal with an influx of asylum seekers, as a key coalition partner said it was the “wrong decision” to allow in thousands of asylum seekers stranded in Hungary.

The Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavaria-based conservative sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said Merkel should make her position clear that other European Union nations must share the burden. However, the disagreement appeared not to have played a large role in the talks.

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