Sunday

15th Jul 2018

Germany takes political lead on migration crisis

  • French PM Valls has described Calais as a 'dead end' for migrants hoping to get to the UK (Photo: Jey OH photographie)

Germany is taking the political lead on EU migration, as it faces some 800,000 applications this year alone.

On Monday (31 August), German chancellor Angela Merkel said the nation and the whole of the EU must find an urgent solution to Europe's migration problem.

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"We have many examples where we showed we can respond. Remember the bank rescues. During the international financial crisis, the federal and state governments pushed through the necessary legislation in a matter of days", she said.

She said similar efforts to save the banks must be made to address the refugee crisis, described as the worst since WWII.

Last week, Germany eased asylum rules for Syrian refugees, meaning they will no longer be returned to the point-of-entry EU country for their asylum application to be processed, as required by EU rules.

Germans have also opened their homes to refugees amid far-right protests against migrants in the eastern town of Heidenau.

"There is no tolerance for those who question the dignity of other people," Merkel said.

She announced the government will propose legislation near the end of September worth "billions" to better separate legitimate asylum seekers from economic migrants.

Her comments, among the strongest to date, follow similar calls to action by French prime minister Manuel Valls and EU commission vice-president Frans Timmermans in Calais, also on Monday.

“People will continue to flee persecution, conflict, to assure their futures and protect their children, their families. And the European Union will continue to welcome them”, said Timmermans.

With thousands seeking refuge in the EU arriving on a daily basis, many risking their lives in the process, migration has become the biggest and thorniest issue facing European politicians.

The first six months of this year saw 340,000 people seeking refuge in Europe. The total represents 0.07 percent of Europe’s around 500-million strong population.

On Monday, Austria increased controls of it border with Hungary as it searched vehicles suspected of harbouring smuggled people.

The security checks, which are creating huge traffic jams, come after 71 Syrians were last week found dead in the back of a food delivery truck on a highway in Austria.

The Calais visit with Timmermans and EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos was, in part, meant to support a Franco-German push declared last week.

“We need a collective response. There is no national solution”, said Timmermans.

The commission wants to create a permanent system to relocate asylum seekers that can be triggered in times of crisis. It is meant to be announced before the end of year.

It follows a similar plan to distribute 40,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy over two-year period based on binding quota system.

But EU leaders in July rejected the mandatory quota and instead agreed to relocate 32,256. Austria and Hungary refused to take in any. The UK opted out. Denmark is not involved.

France, for its part, backs the relocation system but opposes mandatory quotas.

The leaders of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia are, at a summit in Prague on Friday, to reiterate their opposition to any binding EU scheme.

New Calais reception centre

Meanwhile, the commission on Monday released over €5 million in emergency funding for France. Some of it will be used to finance a new reception centre with 1,500 beds in Calais.

There are 3,500 people in Calais, up from around 400 less than a year ago. Many are fleeing war in Syria and all want to go to the UK.

But Valls had a strong warning for those making the trip to the UK via Calais.

“Coming to Calais means throwing oneself into a dead end”, said Valls, noting security has been stepped up around the Channel tunnel and the port.

Valls also said France has dismantled over 170 smuggling networks, involving about 800 people, in the first seven months of 2015.

Trains packed with migrants arrive in Vienna

Hungary has said Berlin should clarify the legal status of migrants travelling within the EU, as thousands of refugees in Budapest demand to travel to Germany.

Opinion

Fate of EU refugee deal hangs in the balance

Europe's choice is between unplanned, reactive, fragmented, ineffective migration policy and planned, regulated, documented movements of people, writes International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband.

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