Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped up her appeal for a Europe-wide response to the region’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II as Hungary closed a train station where hundreds had departed for Germany.
“We must push through uniform European asylum policies,” Merkel said Tuesday at a Berlin press conference. “We observe through practical experience every day that the current legal framework is evidently not being practiced.”
Hungary temporarily shut Budapest’s main railway station Tuesday and stopped letting migrants board trains to Germany, an about face from Monday when hundreds were allowed onto trains heading west without being checked. European Union rules -- known as the Dublin Regulations -- require refugees to be registered and processed in the country of arrival.
European governments are bickering over how to respond to the increasing flow of refugees, with Germany alone estimating that it will need to spend billions of euros to care for the expected 800,000 arrivals in 2015, nearly four times last year’s figure. While countries such as Germany, France and Austria are pushing for a greater division of asylum seekers across the EU, Hungary, the U.K. and other eastern European nations refuse to admit large numbers of migrants.
“We have to engage fully in this question lest Europe falls apart,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said in Vienna. “It’s irresponsible to simply not execute the Dublin rules, to stop registration.”
The leaders of Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland, which reject proposals to implement refugee quotas for individual EU members, will meet Friday in Prague to coordinate their stances, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said Monday. He called for better policing of the bloc’s external frontiers and rejected a suggestion from Faymann to link EU development funds for poorer members to taking on more refugees.
“EU funds are a tool for solidarity inside the EU and should be used for balancing the differences between poorer and richer EU states,” Sobotka said. “EU funds should definitely not be linked to solving the migration crisis.”
In Hungary on Tuesday, officers forced about 1,000 people from the Keleti station in Budapest, the main departure point for trains bound for Austria and Germany. A crowd of migrants at the station had initially chanted “Freedom,” “Merkel,” and “Germany” and refused to leave.
“We don’t know what the rules are,” Ali, a 25-year-old Syrian who has been traveling for two weeks and refused to give his last name, said in the Hungarian capital. “We don’t know why they’re not letting us leave for Germany. If we’re not allowed to leave by train, we’ll go by other means, no matter the risks.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will meet EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday to discuss the migration crisis, Hungarian news service MTI reported. Justice and interior ministers from the bloc are also scheduled to hold an emergency summit on refugees on Sept. 14.
“Today we have the most serious refugee situation in many years -- we need to discuss this in Europe,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven said on Tuesday in Stockholm. Sweden has taken in more refugees per capita than any other EU country. “I took the initiative to discuss with Angela Merkel that we have a fairer distribution of refugees in Europe.”
In the Czech Republic on Tuesday, police detained 214 migrants, mainly from Syria, on the country’s border with Slovakia, Foreign Police spokeswoman Katerina Rendlova said. The migrants, including 61 children, were on trains from Budapest and Vienna headed for Germany. They were moved to gymnasiums until they can be transfered to more permanent lodgings, she said.
Authorities in Germany were preparing for the arrival of about 1,500 asylum seekers in Munich after Hungary opened the floodgates on Monday. Among them was Majd Abdulhai, a 20-year-old Syrian who had trekked through six countries since leaving his family near Aleppo with a friend two months ago. He estimated the trip has cost him 3,000 euros ($3,376).
“It’s my dream to be in Germany,” said the former English literature student, who hopes to resume his studies in Munich. “It was impossible to stay anywhere else, maybe in Austria, but I have a lot of friends already here. I’m so happy finally to be here.”
For more, read this QuickTake: Political Asylum