Europe split on influx of migrants; Merkel calls for tolerance
Europe is split on the handling of the influx of migrants, about half coming from the wars and civic breakdowns in North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan. On Monday Angela Merkel, German chancellor, warned Germany's eastern neighbours that the Schengen Agreement on passport-free travel could be put at risk if they are not willing to share the burden of accepting migrants.
At her annual end of summer press conference (see pic above), the chancellor said Europe needs a quota system and she stressed the importance of the clear principles that should be adhered to in dealing with refugees.
"These principles originate from our Constitution," saying the basic right on political persecution gives the right to seek asylum. "We can be proud of the humanity of our Constitution," said Merkel.
The chancellor took a clear stand against all forms of xenophobia. "We will react with the full force of our constitutional state against those who target and attack migrants, set their accommodations in fire or want to use force. There is no tolerance for those who call the dignity of other people in question,"
Last month Merkel said Germany would accept about 800,000 migrants this year — four times the level in 2014.
The chancellor criticised eastern European states reluctant to accept Muslim asylum seekers and cast the refugee crisis as a test of the union’s founding values.
“I believe that our values in Europe are based on the dignity of every individual, without starting to say — ‘we don’t want Muslims, we are a Christian land’,” she said.
Last Friday Merkel said that Greece and Italy needed to be supported with "European-wide personnel." She said the two countries also needed assurances that migrants would then be distributed around Europe.
Bloomberg News reports that on a Monday visit to Calais, a French port where about 3,500 migrants are camped out as they seek to cross to Britain, Manuel Valls, French prime minister, called for EU states to better share the burden of accepting asylum seekers. He added that a distinction must be made between asylum seekers and “economic migrants,” who must return to their homes.
“All people arriving, whether seeking asylum or economic opportunity, deserve to be treated with dignity,” Valls said during his visit. “But we must be firm against illegal immigration, which we can’t confuse with asylum seekers.”
Valls also announced the construction of a 1,500-bed shelter for migrants in Calais, a decision that was criticized by the anti-immigration National Front which said it would encourage more migrants to come. The French government in 2002 closed an earlier shelter near the city.
Bloomberg also reported that in Slovakia, whose neighbor Hungary has erected a razor-wire fence on its southern border with Serbia, Robert Fico, prime minister, said his country would help those who needed protection, but 95% were “economic migrants.” He added that the EU needed to pressure countries outside of the bloc’s visa-free Schengen area to stop the flow.
“We won’t assist this foolishness of widely open arms and sheltering anybody regardless of whether they are economic migrants or not,” Fico said at a briefing in Bratislava. “The government will protect the interests of the Slovak Republic” and it will “strictly distinguish between economic immigrants and speculators from those who are in real need.”
The Financial Times reports that Budapest Keleti station has become a makeshift refugee camp for thousands of migrants in effect trapped in Hungary by stringent passport checks on western-bound trains. Many seek covert means of reaching Austria, by car or lorry. Crowds confronted police at the station on Saturday, chanting “Let us go!”
[Police guarding the trains on Monday allowed hundreds of migrants, many of them without passports or visas, to board the carriages. By early afternoon, Austrian authorities had given orders to halt two trains at Hegyeshalom, a Hungarian town near the Austrian border, citing reports of “overcrowding”.
Hungary has struggled to deal with more than 140,000 migrants who have entered the country this year despite a contentious 175km razor-wire fence built to seal its southern border.]
On Sunday in an op-ed in The Sunday Times, Theresa May, British home secretary, called for the free movement of people within the EU to be limited to those who have a job.
She wrote that EU rules were "the biggest single factor" preventing Britain from reaching its immigration targets.
May also warned of "the consequences of uncontrolled migration on wages, jobs and social cohesion of the destination nations; on the economies and societies of the rest; and on the lives and welfare of those who seek to come here."
Sky News reports that John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said it would be concerning if EU workers had to be hired for a job before arriving in the UK "as this would cause issues for firms without the capacity to advertise and recruit across the whole of Europe".
He said: "The evidence shows that the vast majority of people coming from the EU to the UK come to work and benefit our economy.
"Our hospitals and care homes couldn't function without overseas workers; building sites that we need to deliver more homes and big infrastructure projects would also stall, for example."
According to the FT, in 2014, Germany received and granted more than 25% of all asylum applications in the EU, far above its population share. Sweden, with just 2% of the EU’s population, last year accounted for 13% of all applications and 18% of all successful ones.
AFP reports that nearly 340,000 refugees and migrants illegally crossed the border into Europe from January to July 2015, according to the EU's border agency Frontex. The number compares to 280,000 for the whole of 2014.
The UN refugee agency has put the number at more than 300,000 migrants and refugees having crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, compared to 219,000 crossings in the whole of 2014.
Around 2,500 have died this year so far, compared to 3,500 for the whole of last year, it says.
Frontex said that Syria and Afghanistan were the two countries most represented among migrants entering the EU.
The top five countries for arrivals in Europe on all sea crossings are Syria (43%), Eritrea (10%), Nigeria (5%), Somalia (3%), and others (27%), according to the UN.
Nine out of ten of those making the Mediterranean crossing to Italy are Africans, however and almost a fifth of those coming over the Balkans are Kosovans, leading Germany and other EU states to call for a register of 'safe' countries to which migrants can be returned.
Explainer: Schengen under pressure