Friday 9 December 2016

Merkel calls for unity in EU law as refugees flow across borders

Harriet Alexander in London

Published 02/09/2015 | 02:30

Migrants gesture as they stand in the main Eastern Railway station in Budapest, Hungary, yesterday. Hungary closed Budapest's main Eastern Railway station with no trains departing or arriving until further notice.
Migrants gesture as they stand in the main Eastern Railway station in Budapest, Hungary, yesterday. Hungary closed Budapest's main Eastern Railway station with no trains departing or arriving until further notice.

GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped up her appeal for a Europe-wide response to the region's biggest refugee crisis since World War II as Hungary closed a train station where hundreds had departed for Germany.

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"We must push through uniform European asylum policies," Merkel said at a Berlin press conference yesterday. "We observe through practical experience every day that the current legal framework is evidently not being practiced."

Hungary temporarily shut Budapest's main railway station yesterday and stopped letting migrants board trains to Germany, an about face from Monday when hundreds were allowed onto trains heading west without being checked. European Union rules - known as the Dublin Regulations - require refugees to be registered and processed in the country of arrival.

Bickering

European governments are bickering over how to respond to the increasing flow of refugees, with Germany alone estimating that it will need to spend billions of euros to care for the expected 800,000 arrivals in 2015, nearly four times last year's figure. While countries such as Germany, France and Austria are pushing for a greater division of asylum seekers across the EU, Hungary, the UK and other eastern European nations refuse to admit large numbers of migrants.

"We have to engage fully in this question lest Europe falls apart," Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said in Vienna. "It's irresponsible to simply not execute the Dublin rules, to stop registration."

The leaders of Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland, which reject proposals to implement refugee quotas for individual EU members, will meet on Friday in Prague to coordinate their stances, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said.

He called for better policing of the bloc's external frontiers and rejected a suggestion from Faymann to link EU development funds for poorer members to taking on more refugees.

"EU funds are a tool for solidarity inside the EU and should be used for balancing the differences between poorer and richer EU states," Sobotka said. "EU funds should definitely not be linked to solving the migration crisis."

In Hungary yesterday, officers forced about 1,000 people from the Keleti station in Budapest, the main departure point for trains bound for Austria and Germany. A crowd of migrants at the station had initially chanted "Freedom," "Merkel," and "Germany" and refused to leave.

"We don't know what the rules are," Ali, a 25-year-old Syrian who has been travelling for two weeks and refused to give his last name, said in the Hungarian capital. "We don't know why they're not letting us leave for Germany. If we're not allowed to leave by train, we'll go by other means, no matter the risks."

A Hungarian government spokesman, when asked why the railway terminus was closed, told reporters that Hungary was trying to enforce EU law, which requires anyone who wishes to travel within Europe to hold a valid passport and a Schengen visa.

The last two years have seen Hungary - as part of the passport-free Schengen zone - become a major transit country for migrants entering Europe from the borders with Serbia and the Ukraine.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will meet EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tomorrow to discuss the migration crisis.

Hostile

In the Czech Republic yesterday, police detained 214 migrants, mainly from Syria, on the country's border with Slovakia, Foreign Police spokeswoman Katerina Rendlova said.

The migrants, including 61 children, were on trains from Budapest and Vienna headed for Germany. They were moved to gymnasiums until they can be transferred to more permanent lodgings, Ms Rendlova said.

Meanwhile, Mr Tusk has lashed out at "xenophobic" reactions to the influx of refugees and migrants.

"Whatever the challenges migration might bring there is no justification for hostile, racist or xenophobic reactions to migrants," he said yesterday.

It comes as Germany in particular has seen a spate of anti- immigrant attacks, including one case where a family of asylum seekers had their apartment firebombed.

Irish Independent

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