German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on European Union leaders to take speedy action to alleviate the continent’s asylum crisis following the discovery of as many as 50 dead refugees near the Austrian capital.
“This is a warning for us to tackle the issue of migration quickly,” Merkel said at a conference on EU-Balkan relations Thursday in Vienna. “We have more refugees in the world than at any time since World War II. The world’s eyes are upon us.”
Austrian police found the dead refugees Thursday morning in an abandoned truck with Hungarian license plates on a highway running between Vienna and Budapest, Interior Ministry spokesman Alexander Marakovits said by telephone. Investigating officers opened the back of the vehicle after noticing a stench and found the bodies, he said, adding that the exact number of corpses hasn’t been determined yet.
Merkel, who said she was “shaken by the terrible news,” and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier renewed their call to share the burden of aiding refugees throughout the EU’s 28 member states following the rejection of binding quotas by some European nations. The two also pushed to set up registration centers for asylum seekers in countries such as Greece and Italy. Germany is expecting a flood of 800,000 refugees into the country in 2015.
“Don’t doubt our determination,” Merkel said of reaching an accord on quotas. “What we see on a daily basis requires us to act.”
Earlier at the conference, Serbia criticized the EU for failing to stem the wave of refugees flowing through the Balkans, saying the region is paying for the bloc’s inability to handle the crisis.
“It’s a European Union problem, but we’re expected to come up with an action plan,” Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic told conference attendees. “I have to be very direct here, please understand. We bear the brunt of the burden.”
European governments are bickering over how to deal with the refugee surge that’s straining shelter capacity even in countries such as Germany. Serbia, which isn’t in the EU, has confronted thousands of migrants headed north from Greece on its border with the Republic of Macedonia. EU member Hungary has constructed a razor-wire fence to block refugees from entry.
In the U.K., net long-term migration rose to 330,000 in the year ending March 2015, the highest on record and more than three times Prime Minister David Cameron’s target of below 100,000. The previous record was 320,000 in the year ending June 2005, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The U.K. Independence Party, which seeks to cut immigration by leaving the EU and imposing an Australian-style points system for foreign workers, said the statistics show the “total impotence of the British government.” Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said the figures are “deeply disappointing.”
“The question arises whether trust in Europe will collapse, whether we can solve this problem together,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said alongside Merkel Thursday. “That’s the wrong path. Every country will then try to build walls with watchtowers.”