Wednesday

24th Jan 2018

Migrants walk to Austria, as EU ministers scratch heads

  • Germany has adopted an open door policy, while easterly EU states build fences (Photo: European Council)

Thousands of exhausted migrants reached Austria from Hungary on Saturday (5 September) morning, while EU ministers in Luxembourg seemed unable to agree what to do about Europe’s largest migrant crisis since World War II.

Austria said migrants can claim asylum there or move on to Germany.

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The asylum seekers started their march towards the Alpine country after being stranded for days at the Keleti railway station in Budapest, with Hungarian authorities barring them from boarding trains bound for the west.

After walking for hours, in yet another twist, the Hungarian government then provided buses to carry the tired people onwards. Distrusting Hungarian authorities and afraid the buses will take them to refugee camps, it took some convincing before they got on board.

The move was made possible after Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann announced that Austria and Germany will take in the refugees.

Faymann made the announcement after talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban by phone.

The UN refugee agency later praised Austria and Germany for deciding to take in the asylum seekers.

Faymann insisted this is a one-time offer, and that he expects Hungary to adhere to Dublin rules.

The EU rules say member states where migrants first stepped on EU soil are responsible for processing their asylum claim.

Budapest has been saying all the migrants that crossed into Hungary first entered the bloc in Greece and should have been processed there.

Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said in Luxembourg that Friday night’s events are the result of the EU’s failed migration policy and irresponsible statements of some European politicians.

His criticism referred to Germany’s decision to suspend Dublin rules for Syrian refugees and tov examine their asylum applications no matter where they entered the bloc.

Meanwhile, hundreds of new migrants continued arriving to Keleti railway station in Budapest on Saturday.

Hungarian media report they boarded trains for Austria without any interference from police. Hundreds more broke out of refugee camps throughout Hungary and stated marching towards the Austrian border.

Ideas welcomed, quotas not

The dramatic exodus comes as EU foreign ministers scratched heads in Luxembourg at an informal meeting on how to deal with the unprecedented surge of people seeking protection.

“Everybody agreed we need to do something, but the big question is what exactly”, said an EU source familiar with the talks.

Informal discussion among the foreign ministers focused on the mandatory quota scheme, to be announced in detail by Jean-Claude Juncker, the Euroepan Commission president, next week in Strasbourg.

The system would redistribute 160,000 migrants from frontline states Italy, Greece, and Hungary among rest of the EU members.

Germany, France, and Italy support the quota system. But central and eastern European members states are still oppose the mandatory nature of the scheme, arguing it encourages even more migrants to come.

Miroslav Lajcak, Slovakia’s foreign minister, said Friday night’s events in Hungary showed the compulsory quota system would not work.

“They can’t force these people to stay,” he said.

Arriving at the meeting, Lajcak also speculated on how the system would work. “How will we proceed, have a draw and who wins goes to Germany and who loses goes to Estonia or Slovakia?,” he said.

Frederica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said after the meeting that member states now understand the crisis effects everyone. “We are all in this together,” she said.

She noted that Europe has a moral and legal duty towards the refugees. “It is partially a migrant flow, but it is mainly a refugee flow”, Mogherini said.

She revealed little on the substance of the talks, where ministers discussed so-called “external hotspots”, centers outside of the EU where asylum requests could be processed.

The foreign ministers held a meeting with EU-candidate countries from the Western Balkans, also a migrant ransit route.

Germany is also pushing for an emergency EU summit on the migrant crisis at the beginning of October.

Hungary U-turn on migrant trains prompts unrest

Hungary's decision to block migrants from going to Germany has prompted chaotic scenes in Budapest, with PM Orban to meet European Commission chief Juncker on Thursday for talks on the situation.

Germany sets example on EU migrants

Thousands of people seeking refuge arrived in Germany over the weekend as Austria announces plans 'to end emergency migrant measures'.

Macron eyes France-UK border agreement

French president Macron wants the UK to take in more refugees as he revisits the 2003 Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border controls to take place inside French territory.

Magazine

The asylum files: deadlock and dead-ends

The EU is reforming a number of internal asylum laws, but lack of staff, politics, and the sheer complexity of the bills means deadlines - like those announced by EU council chief Tusk - are likely to come and go.

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