Merkel Says Germans Fulfill Refugee Duty, Now Time for EU to Act

  • Meeting in Vienna focused on securing Balkan route borders
  • Austria’s Kern seeks North Africa accords on migrant return

Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear Saturday that Germans have done their duty to alleviate Europe’s refugee crisis and now the rest of the continent needs to do its share.

European Union countries have to accept refugees at a faster rate in order to alleviate the backlog of people stuck in the continent’s southeastern flank, Merkel said in Vienna after meeting with nine other heads of government. Their discussions focused on strengthening the EU’s border along the so-called Balkan route preferred by refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Angela Merkel at the summit.

Photographer: Lisi Niesner/Bloomberg

“In view of the many refugees who are already with us, other EU countries will have to jump in,” Merkel said at a press briefing. While it’s “encouraging” other EU states have started to accept more refugees, she said the bloc’s “mechanism is too slow” for distributing people who’ve filed applications for asylum.

Refugees fleeing conflict and migrants seeking opportunity have strained Europe’s ability to cope in the past two years. The EU accepted 305,700 applications of asylum in the second quarter, pushing the total in the past 12 months to about 1.5 million. Germany took in more than 60 percent of the outsiders seeking help in the three months ended in June.

“You will never be able to close a border completely, but for Germany it’s been too much and I understand the concern,” Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said at a separate press briefing. To alleviate pressure created by North African migrants, Kern wants to strike financial deals with Niger, Mali, Egypt and Senegal along the lines of the agreement the EU has with Turkey.

“We have a successful model with Turkey and this is the model on which we want to build,” Kern said. Under its agreement, Turkey has helped staunch the flow of refugees in return for economic aid and talks to extend visa privileges.

The influx of foreigners has triggered a backlash that risks tearing apart Europe’s political order and leaving the continent divided. The U.K. already voted to leave the 28-nation bloc partly because of concerns over immigration. Nationalist politicians promising to crack down on immigrants have won support in Austria and Germany. A cleft has split eastern EU members opposed to accepting any refugees and western nations in favor of following legal conventions.

Leaders at the Vienna talks, which included Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, also weighed ideas that would bring more resources to periphery countries unable to act. Merkel suggested EU personnel could be dispatched to Greece to help manage the refugee buildup. Kern said legislation may be drafted to let military forces assist in some cases.

“We all understood that we need to control our borders and that it’s we who decide who comes to Europe and not the smugglers,” Kern said. “This may mean a backlog and therefore Greece needs our support.”

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