Tensions Rise Between European Nations Over Refugee Crisis

Could Refugee Crisis Break Europe?
  • Merkel says Europe facing one of its `greatest litmus tests'
  • Shelter for 100,000 refugees agreed to at Sunday gathering

European leaders clashed over how to manage the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees forging through the region’s eastern flank as they warned that Europe is buckling under the strain of the crisis.

QuickTake Europe’s Refugee Crisis

While 11 leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel managed to come up with short-term fixes at a summit on Sunday, including the provision of emergency shelter for 100,000 refugees and a stepped-up system for their registration, the meeting laid bare tensions between nations that risk fraying the fragile fabric of cooperation in addressing the growing problem.

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel
Photographer: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

“This is one of the greatest litmus tests that Europe has ever faced.” Merkel said after the gathering in Brussels. “We will need to take further steps to get through this litmus test.”

With winter approaching and more than a million migrants set to reach the European Union this year, national authorities have shut their borders and waved asylum seekers through to neighboring countries as they struggle to get a grip on Europe’s largest influx of refugees in seven decades.

“We have made clear to everyone this evening that waving them through has to stop,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said. While it’s important to implement measures agreed on Sunday, “there will be no miracle cure.”

Western Balkans

Migrants arrive by train at Kljuc Brdovecki before crossing over the Slovenian border to Rigonce in Zagreb, Croatia.
Migrants arrive by train at Kljuc Brdovecki before crossing over the Slovenian border to Rigonce in Zagreb, Croatia.
Photographer: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

The situation in the Western Balkans -- the focus of the summit in Brussels -- has worsened over the past few months, aggravating deep-seated distrust between nations that emerged from the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia. The main flow of migrants fleeing conflict-stricken nations changed from a route through southern Europe to one leading from Turkey to Greece and through countries including Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia.

“If we do not deliver some immediate and concrete actions on the ground in the next few days and weeks, I do believe that the European Union and Europe as a whole will start falling apart,” Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar told reporters before the meeting.

Greece, which is at the front line for refugees arriving in Europe, agreed to provide temporary shelter for 30,000 refugees by the end of the year, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees supporting a further 20,000 places in the country. An additional 50,000 places will be established by the countries along the Western Balkan route, according to a statement issued after the gathering.

Frontier Controls

Countries also agreed to work together and with Frontex, the EU border-management agency, to bolster frontier controls and cooperation, including between Turkey and Bulgaria and between Greece and Macedonia.

Greece fended off “absurd proposals” at the meeting, including allowing countries to block migrants entering from neighboring countries and giving Frontex a new undertaking on the Greek frontier with Macedonia, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.

Tsipras signaled disappointment that Turkey wasn’t invited to the summit because it plays “the basic role, the key role” in the crisis.

The leaders of Albania, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia joined the government heads of EU countries Germany, Greece, Romania, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and ministers from Luxembourg and the Netherlands on Sunday.

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