German Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing her country’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II, called on European Union counterparts to take on a greater share of the influx of asylum seekers.
“What is happening at the moment is not just,” Merkel said at an event in Berlin on Sunday. “If Europe is a place of solidarity -- and we have also often shown our solidarity -- then we must on this question remain solidly united.”
Germany, France and Austria this past week sharpened their call for an EU-wide response to the migration crisis following the grim discovery on Thursday of 71 dead refugees in a truck near Vienna. Germany alone expects 800,000 to enter the country in 2015, nearly four times last year’s figure.
Germany, France and the U.K. said on Sunday that they’ve asked Luxembourg, which holds the rotating presidency of the 28-member bloc, to summon EU interior and justice ministers to an emergency gathering within the next two weeks to prepare concrete actions for their next regular meeting in October.
In their joint statement, the three countries called for the creation of “hot spots” in Italy and Greece, by the end of the year at the latest, where migrants will be fingerprinted and recorded in a data base. They also urged the creation of a single list of countries to which migrants can be sent back safely if they don’t qualify for EU refugee status, to enable better care in the EU for those who do.
“In order to help those who are in distress, we must also be able to tell those who aren’t in this situation that they can’t remain with us,” Merkel said. “It’s all dependent on being able to make this determination as quickly as possible.”
Germany has gone through some soul-searching in the last week following violent protests outside a refugee shelter in the eastern city of Heidenau. About 20 buildings designated as refugee centers have gone up in flames this year in the country.
German media outlets have provided blanket coverage of the crisis. Bild Zeitung, the country’s biggest circulation newspaper, on Saturday devoted the first four pages to a campaign to get average citizens to help. Der Spiegel featured a 12-page cover story that the influential weekly magazine called a “manifesto” for Germans to decide what kind of country they want to live in.
“To those who say we can’t accept” any asylum seekers, “I say: ‘Yes, we can and we must, and if we do it in a smart way it’ll even benefit us,’” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in Berlin. “And those who say that all the weary and burdened can come to Germany because we’re a rich country, to those I say: ‘No, that’s not possible. That overburdens even us.’”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Sunday urged Hungary to tear down a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia, and scolded EU nations that refuse to take their share of the rising number of refugees fleeing war in the Middle East and Africa.
“When I see some countries in Europe that refuse quotas, I find this outrageous,” Fabius said in a joint interview with Europe 1 radio, i-Tele, and Le Monde. “Hungary isn’t respecting the common values of Europe” with the fence and the EU must have a “severe” discussion with the country, he said.
Some 340,000 migrants have illegally entered the Schengen Area since the start of the year, including from the Balkans, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Sunday at a gathering in La Rochelle, France. A total of 26 European countries belong to Schengen, where borders are open and no passport checks take place once someone is inside the area.
“Those who flee wars, persecution, torture, must be welcomed with dignity,” Valls said. Europe needs a “unified” asylum policy that distinguishes between refugees, asylum seekers and illegal migrants, he said.
Given the acute nature of the crisis, Merkel said she was working simply to secure the basic necessities needed to care for the thousands appearing on Germany’s doorstep.
“Our most pressing problem now is for everyone to have a proper roof over his head or a warm tent with the winter months coming,” Merkel said. “You can see that every day there are many, many more arriving.”