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15th Dec 2018

German and Swedish leaders welcome migrants

  • Merkel said all EU states will, 'over time', adopt a more open policy (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

Following a promise by German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel that his country is ready to give a safe haven to 500,000 asylum seekers per year for the next few years, the leaders of Germany and Sweden on Tuesday (8 September) issued a joint appeal for EU solidarity on relocations.

Germany and Sweden are the most popular destinations for asylum seekers in the EU.

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Speaking at a press conference in Berlin, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Sweden’s Stefan Loefven repeated calls for mandatory quotas in the EU, as suggested by the European Commission in May, but rejected at an EU summit in June.

Merkel said unanimity is needed in the Council to introduce the quota system, and that nothing good would come of forcing countries to join it. But she added that, over time, all would take part.

"The reality is, that as 25 countries [with the exception of the UK, Ireland and Denmark] are needed to agree the asylum policies in the European Council, then all must be in agreement. But my experience is that when it looks ever so hard, in European politics it is possible to reach agreement over time", she said.

The quota system ought to be combined with a joint system to return those not granted protection, the two leaders said.

"Those who do not have the right to asylum must leave the country. It goes for Germany as well as for Sweden and we must have a list of safe countries for this purpose. We agree that the Western Balkan countries must be on this list", Merkel said.

Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, and the UK already have their own designated national lists.

But there are big differences over which countries are on the lists, which criteria are used to define a safe-origin state, and how they are applied in practice.

Merkel said Turkey, which operates huge Syrian refugee camps, will be an important EU partner in the process.

Loefven voiced worries about a number of EU states which, he said "try to sneak around their responsibilities".

He said the voluntary relocations deal reached at an EU summit in July was not enough.

He called instead for “a permanent and binding system that kicks in when the refugee situation changes radically in a country”.

Germany and Sweden are the two EU member states accepting the vast majority of EU-bound refugees and the influx of newcomers do not pose a problem, Loefven added.

"Imagine there are 500 people in the room, and then one more arrives. We can't say there isn’t room for this one person”, he said.

The Swedish PM pointed out that in a global economy, it would be an advantage for Swedish trade in the long term to accept people from other countries as refugees now.

Meanwhile, according to Danish police, 1,238 people have crossed the border from Germany since Sunday and only one in 10 have asked for asylum in Denmark.

Many of them are being held back against their will at the German-Danish border, despite their wish to continue on to Sweden.

Danish activist Annika Holm Nielsen and her friends published on Facebook that they had taken a refugee across the Oeresund to Sweden. She wrote that she planned to take as many across as possible and that integration minister, Inger Stoejberg, would have to put her in prison in order to stop her. Her site had 2.9k likes.

One well-known Danish author, Lisbeth Zornig, picked up six refugees and took them from the border to Copenhagen, insisting it can not be illegal to pick up hitchhikers.

However, people helping the refugees are considered traffickers and risk two years in prison, but many do it anyway.

Some find that their vocations as nurses or doctors oblige them to help people in need, while others say they are willing to run the risk.

Hungary struggling to register all migrants

Hungary is trying to register all migrants in line with EU law, but struggling to cope with huge numbers and with people who refuse to take part in registration.

Sweden beset by anti-migrant arson attacks

Ten asylum homes across Sweden were set alight in October. As police search for the culprits, debate is rife on how to cope with the influx of migrants and the rhetoric of the far-right Sweden Democrats.

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