EU dithering aggravated refugee crisis, Merkel says
German chancellor Angela Merkel has said that she and other EU leaders are to blame for waiting too long to react to the migration crisis.
"There are political issues that one can see coming but don't really register with people at that certain moment - and in Germany we ignored both the problem for too long and blocked out the need to find a pan-European solution," she told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an interview published on Wednesday (31 August).
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She said that Germany, at first, had rejected the idea of burden sharing and of giving extra powers to the EU’s border agency, Frontex, to protect the external boundary of the Schengen free travel zone.
"Back then, we also rejected a proportional distribution of the refugees," she said.
"We said we would deal with the problem at our airports since we don't have any other external EU boundaries. But that doesn't work.
"We didn't embrace the problem in an appropriate way."
Merkel warned the German public that people were likely to keep seeking refuge in Europe for many years to come and that the EU would need to increase development aid to Africa as well as financial support to Turkey to alleviate the situation.
She also warned German politicians not to make incendiary statements linking refugees to terrorism.
"It's simply incorrect to say that terrorism came only with the refugees," she said.
"It was already here in myriad forms and with the various potential attackers that we have been watching,” she added, referring to the fact that most of the recent attacks in Europe had been perpetrated by EU nationals.
The chancellor’s mea culpa was issued on the one-year anniversary of her statement “wir schaffen das", or "we can do this”, which came to symbolise her open-door policy to migrants.
Germany last year took in almost 1 million people, prompting a political backlash against the government and rising support for anti-EU and anti-immigrant groups such as the AfD party and the Pegida movement.
Germany's top migration official Frank-Juergen Weise said last Sunday he expected the country to take in another 250,000 to 300,000 people this year.
Other EU leaders have also blamed Merkel’s policies for acting as a pull factor for refugees.
But her comments on how the problem had been initially mishandled could be aimed at central and eastern European leaders, who still reject migrant quotas, ahead of a summit on EU reform due in Bratislava later this month.
“It doesn’t work for some countries to say: ‘We don’t want to have Muslims at all, even if it’s necessary for humanitarian reasons’,” she told German broadcaster ARD on Sunday.