Germany ups pressure on neighbours as refugee crisis mounts


Germany, joined by Sweden and Austria, raised pressure on their neighbours Monday to help cope with Europe’s refugee crisis.

Announcing billions of euros in new funds to accommodate as many as 800,000 asylum seekers expected to arrive this year, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the entire European Union had to pitch in to “fairly distribute the refugees”.

Merkel compared Berlin’s push to tackle the problem to its action in 2008 to save banks during the global financial crisis.

“We were quick when it was a matter of rescuing banks and I think we should be just as quick when it’s a matter of … dealing with this challenge,” she said.

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

But the chancellor also shrugged off international praise for her decision to open her country’s borders.

“Germany is a country that many people abroad connect with hope, and that is to be valued when you consider our history,” said Merkel.

“I don’t imagine this is about me. This is about the nation, the many people standing there in the railway stations, the many who are welcoming.”

Merkel’s deputy, Social Democratic leader Sigmar Gabriel, warned that just three of the EU’s 28 nations could not handle the migrant influx without help.

“In the European Union, things happen by negotiation and compromise, and relatively rarely by compulsion,” said Gabriel. “However you can’t just let things go on as before and compel Germany, Austria and Sweden to shoulder this enormous burden alone.”

Europe is facing a crisis of responsibility, not a refugee crisis, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said, calling for a “permanent, mandatory system to redistribute” asylum seekers within the EU.

The European Commission is expected to propose such a scheme this week, despite resistance from central European countries that want a voluntary system.

A top EU official said Monday that he believes rules requiring asylum applications to be filed in the member state where a refugee arrives – know as the Dublin regulation – also need to be reviewed.

“Dublin does not work properly,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in Austria, where he visited a refugee centre and announced that the country would receive more than 5 million euros (5.6 million dollars) in migration aid.

“We need clear, strong answers so that the European Union and Europe do not fail over the refugee question,” Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said during Avramopoulos’ visit.

Germany said it would set up holding centres for 150,000 more migrants and refugees, speed up legal processing of refugees’ claims and appropriate an extra 6 billion euros next year to house refugees.

To thwart people from Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia who “wrongly try to use the right to political asylum,” as the Labour Ministry put it, Berlin announced it would let in 20,000 legal immigrants from those nations annually for five years.

It will also organize and fund 10,000 retirees and teenagers to provide full-time volunteer work to assist migrants. Merkel said it was “not implausible” that all levels of government in Germany would have to spend an extra 10 billion euros next year on refugees.

In Paris, President Francois Hollande said France will accept 24,000 extra refugees over the next two years. Britain said it would resettle 20,000 Syrians from UN-supported refugee camps over the next five years.

The migration flows towards the EU have shown little sign of abating.

In Brussels, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura warned that up to a million more people in Syria could set sail for Europe from Latakia, on the western coast of Syria, if the country’s civil war takes hold there.

“The tendency so far is quite worrying,” he said, adding that the refugees are driven on the one hand by the fact that winter is approaching, but also by a loss of hope in ending the conflict.

“Can you blame them? After five years of all us continuously meeting in conferences … and trying to see whether there is a roadmap, and meanwhile the conflict continues,” de Mistura said.

Hungarian police registered some 2,100 migrants coming across the Serbian border on Monday, after registering 2,203 on Sunday.

A new Hungarian reception camp at Roske, on the border with Serbia, was quickly filled to capacity. Hundreds of refugees broke through police lines there to start a long journey on foot toward Austria.

Only about 200 refugees left Hungary for Austria on Monday, Austrian Press Agency APA quoted police as saying. Tens of thousands had crossed the border over the weekend.

Hungarian Defence Minister Csaba Hende resigned on Monday, the state-run news agency MTI reported, after a security cabinet meeting to discuss construction of a fence that Hungary is building along the border with Serbia to stop refugees from crossing the border.

MTI did no say if the resignation was linked to delays in building the fence.

Macedonian authorities said 2,500 refugees left Gevgelija in trains for the Serbian border Sunday, and another train with 1,000 left Monday.

Christoph Hillenbrand, head of the eastern Bavarian regional authority, said up to 10,000 more refugees were expected to arrive in Germany on Monday. Some 20,000 arrived over the weekend.