Germany Says Europe in Danger as Countries Spar Over Refugees

  • Refugee trains avoiding Munich due to Oktoberfest crowds
  • Germany names new refugee coordinator day after chief quits

Croatia and Hungary sparred over the handling of migrants as Germany warned that Europe is at risk unless countries pull together to tackle the region’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

“Europe is in danger of destroying itself, much more than through the Greek crisis,” German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said in Berlin. “If people think that Europe is only something that people join when they get money, but ignore when they are asked to take responsibility for something, then no one is interested in Europe.”

Many countries are increasingly pursuing a go-it-alone strategy. Croatia on Friday began busing migrants to the Hungarian border and shut crossings with Serbia after more than 14,000 refugees streamed in. That prompted a response from Hungary that it was breaking off communications with officials in Zagreb and extending a fence on its frontier with that country. Slovenia, meantime, halted rail links with its Balkan neighbor.

“Hungarian-Croatian relations were at a low-point even before the migration wave and so I don’t see any point in talking,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in Budapest, according to the MTI news service.

Migrants wait at Tovarnik railway station.
Migrants wait at Tovarnik railway station.
Photographer: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

European leaders have been at odds for weeks over how to deal with the crisis, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban fortifying his border to keep refugees out and German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying Europe has a moral responsibility to let them in. EU President Donald Tusk has called an emergency leaders summit on the crisis next Wednesday -- one day after EU interior ministers gather to hammer out a deal to relocate 120,000 refugees currently in Greece, Hungary and Italy. Eastern European countries have been opposed to implementing any binding quotas in the 28-member bloc.

Germany is deploying five trains per day to Salzburg, Austria, to transport refugees. The trains are being routed to locations other than the Bavarian capital, where many of the migrants in recent weeks have first been entering the country.

“We can’t send them to Munich or else we’d have chaos as Oktoberfest gets underway,” said Stefan Frey, a spokesman for Bavaria’s Interior Ministry. “That means thousands of guests at Munich’s train stations already, and if we added thousands of refugees, it would become a logistical problem and possibly also a security problem.”

Germany on Friday named the head of the country’s labor agency, Frank-Juergen Weise, to also oversee the office for migration and refugees after the country’s top migration official stepped down over criticism of his response to the influx, which some in the government now expect may top 1 million this year.

Merkel’s government is also considering measures to tighten asylum laws and speed up its response to the crisis after implementing temporary border controls earlier in the week. The plan, which still needs approval from Merkel’s coalition partners, is part of a broader crisis package to be unveiled Sept. 24 that includes 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) in additional federal funding for refugees in 2016.

“It cannot be that one country in Europe takes on the injustice of a whole world,” Merkel said Friday in the eastern German city of Halle. “Domestic and foreign policy will move much more closely together as a consequence of this crisis.”

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