Merkel to visit refugee centre hit by violence in EU migrants crisis
With criticism mounting over the bloc’s response to Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II, regional leaders will meet this week at a summit set to be dominated by the influx.
Merkel, who has been criticised for failing to forcefully address the wave of anti-migrant sentiment until this week, will visit a refugee centre hit by far-right and neo-Nazi protests in the eastern town of Heidenau.
Her trip comes as Germany on Tuesday said it had stopped returning Syrian asylum-seekers to their first EU port of entry, becoming the first member state to effectively simplify the application process for those fleeing the brutal civil war.
“Simply put, Europe is in a situation that is not worthy of Europe,” Merkel said earlier, calling for a “dialogue with the people” on how to redistribute the refugees fairly within the EU.
Natasha Bertaud, spokeswoman for the EU Commission, said Germany’s move was “recognition of the fact that we cannot leave the member states at the external borders alone in dealing with a large number of asylum seekers seeking refuge in Europe.”
Under the so-called Dublin rules, the first EU country where an asylum-seeker arrives is usually required to process the claimant’s application.
In practice, this means countries on the EU’s southern borders like Greece or Italy are overwhelmed with applications as thousands arrive on their shores after a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.
– Hungary border patrol units –
Hungary, another country on the edge of the EU where record numbers of people are streaming in from Serbia, is rushing to build a vast razor-wire barrier to keep migrants out.
Police there are also due to announce new measures Wednesday including the creation of border patrol units.
The European Commission said it stood ready to provide Hungary with emergency EU facilities as Budapest struggles to cope with the numbers.
Almost 2,100 people, the highest ever daily total, crossed into Hungary on Monday near the town of Roszke, one of the few sections of the border not yet sealed off by the fence.
They were among 7,000 refugees whose gruelling journey to the EU was temporarily blocked last week when Macedonia declared a state of emergency and shut its borders for three days to halt the huge influx.
Authorities reopened the crossing after chaotic scenes that saw police throwing stun grenades at migrants trying to break through the border.
“We were stopped in Macedonia for two days. The riots were terrible,” said a 29-year-old IT engineer from Mosul in Iraq who said he had left home to escape the Islamic State group. He asked not to be named.
“Police used guns and tear gas. I saw an old woman beaten, her money and papers taken.”
– EU approach ‘not working’ –
The UN refugee agency said it expected the number of refugees moving through Macedonia to double to 3,000 a day, many of them children.
It warned that the situation was also worsening in Greece and Italy, where the number of people arriving after crossing the Mediterranean this year is approaching 300,000.
Since the beginning of 2015, more than 2,370 people have drowned in the Mediterranean, already exceeding the death toll for the whole of 2014, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
The UN called on Europe to “establish a human-rights based, coherent and comprehensive migration policy”.
“Let’s not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working,” said the UN’s special rapporteur on migrants’ rights, Francois Crepeau.
His comments came as Britain announced tough new measures against illegal migrant workers, with those caught working without permits in England and Wales facing up to six months in prison.
– Balkans at the epicentre –
The migration crisis is set to dominate the Vienna summit of leaders from the western Balkans region on Thursday that will also be attended by Merkel, whose country expects to take in a record 800,000 migrants this year.
The western Balkans has now become one of the main routes into the EU.
More than 1,700 migrants were massed Tuesday in a camp in Miratovac in Serbia, waiting for an opportunity to cross into Hungary and onward to more prosperous EU countries like Germany or Sweden.
A key issue at the summit will be the huge number of citizens from conflict-free Balkan states seeking EU asylum in the past year, with nearly half of those arriving in Germany coming from countries like Albania and Kosovo.