Search This Blog

Monday, September 7, 2015

Germany tells neighbors 'Share migrant burden'; Britain to take in 20,000

Share migrant burden, Germany tells neighbors; Britain to take in 20,000

A migrant from Syria holds a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as he arrives from Hungary at Munich Hauptbahnhof main railway station on Sept. 5. Germany has agreed to set aside $6.6 billion next year to help migrants. (Sean Gallup / Getty Images)

As more migrants continue to arrive, Germany called on its neighbors Monday to share the burden of accepting refugees fleeing war and violence, saying that the crisis had become a test of European values and solidarity.

France said it would take in 24,000 refugees under a European Union-wide quota system being prepared that some EU states are almost certain to reject. And British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Monday that his nation would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the current session of Parliament in 2020.

He added that they would come from among those living in camps in Syria and its neighboring countries rather than from refugees and migrants already on European soil.

Martin Meissner / AP
Refugees walk from the main train station after arriving 
in Dortmund, Germany, Sept. 6, 2015.

Migrants wave as they arrive at the main railway station in Munich, Germany, on Sept. 6.

But Germany is bearing the brunt of the crisis, estimating that it could absorb up to 800,000 refugees and migrants this year, more than double what it had forecast at the beginning of 2015. Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that her government would live up to its moral duty to provide sanctuary to those legally entitled to it, however many they might be.

Even so, the thousands who landed in this country just this past weekend have some German officials worried about resources being pushed to the limit. After arriving on packed trains in the southern city of Munich, hundreds of asylum seekers have been quickly whisked to other cities as authorities scramble to ready accommodations and supplies for the newcomers.

Merkel said her government, which oversees Europe’s biggest economy, would set aside $6.6 billion next year to deal with the influx.

“Germany is a country willing to take people in, but refugees can be received in all countries of the European Union in such a way that they can find refuge from civil war and from persecution,” Merkel said. “It is time for the European Union to pull its weight. ... We are a Europe of values.”

She and French President Francois Hollande have been working on a plan that would distribute 120,000 asylum seekers among EU nations based on each country’s size and economic strength. The plan is expected to be unveiled in Brussels on Wednesday.

Hollande, who had previously opposed the idea of a quota system, said that France would play its part in offering refuge for the persecuted.

“We will do this because I believe it is a principle which France is bound by,” he said in Paris.

But agreement among all 28 EU members appears elusive, with several Central and Eastern European states saying categorically that they do not want to accept any refugees. Most outspoken has been Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose heavy-handed treatment of asylum seekers pouring into his country – almost all of them with no intention of staying but instead moving on to Austria, Germany and Sweden – has drawn international criticism.

Orban insists he is protecting the EU’s borders by trying to turn back migrants. He also poured scorn on a Europe-wide quota plan, saying that the right to free movement within the EU granted to residents would make country-specific numbers impossible to enforce.

While refugees began shuttling smoothly over the weekend between Northern European countries such as Austria and Germany, pressure continued to build on choke points in the south where migrants first make landfall or where they have clumped up at borders hoping to push on northward to more hospitable destinations.

Hundreds of asylum seekers, many from Syria and Iraq, continue to arrive daily on Greece’s eastern islands. More than 230,000 have come ashore to date, including 61 rescued Monday from the sea off the coast of the hard-hit island of Lesbos. Among those plucked from the waters were a baby and more than a dozen other children.

Europe's refugee crisis is darkened by the shadows of WWII

The nearly bankrupt Greek government has appealed to the EU for emergency aid to deal with the influx. A government minister said about two-thirds of the 15,000 to 18,000 refugees and migrants living in squalid conditions on Lesbos would be transported to the Greek mainland this week.

Migrants are also crowded at the borders between Greece and Macedonia and between Hungary and Serbia, most of them hoping to make their way to Austria and Germany and points beyond. Orban’s government is constructing a razor-wire fence along the length of Hungary’s nearly 110-mile border with Serbia, but people continue to slip through.

And even in Germany, there were signs of strain as the flood of arrivals continued.

Speaking to reporters at Munich's train station, Christoph Hillenbrand, the president of Upper Bavaria, suggested that the sheer volume of refugees had caught officials somewhat by surprise, even though the migrant "pipeline" passing through the Balkans and Central Europe had been well documented for weeks. Another 2,500 refugees reached the southern state on Monday.

"We will still do our best to create new places," Hillenbrand said. "But we are pushing up against the limit now."

Times staff writer Laura King in Munich and special correspondent Christina Boyle in London contributed to this report.