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Wednesday 28 September 2016

The world's eyes are upon us, warns Merkel

Paul Carrel

Published 09/09/2015 | 02:30

Solution urgent: Angela Merkel
Solution urgent: Angela Merkel
Police try to stop migrants going under a fence to board a train at a station near Gevgelija, in Macedonia Photo: Reuters/Stoyan Nenov

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe was facing a defining moment tackling the largest influx of refugees since World War Two, as diverging paths for handling the crisis came into focus across the region.

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"I've rarely held such an innermost conviction that this is a task that will decide whether Europe is accepted as a continent of values," Ms Merkel said after meeting Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven in Berlin. "On this issue, where the whole world's eyes are upon us, we can't just say Syria is too far away, we won't deal with it."

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said earlier in the day that providing €6 bn in added funds for refugees was an "absolute priority".

And in Washington, the Obama administration has indicated for the first time that it is "actively considering" ways to be more responsive to the global migrant crisis, including refugee resettlement.

Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the US was in contact with countries in the Middle East and Europe grappling with the arrival of more than 340,000 people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

He did not elaborate on specific measures, but said they included "refugee resettlement". He noted that America has provided over $4bn in humanitarian assistance since the Syrian crisis began, and over $1bn in assistance this year.

Earlier, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton called for a "concerted global effort" to assist the refugees. While Germany expects the number of refugees it receives to quadruple to about 800,000 this year and says it cannot continue to take them in at that rate.

Ms Merkel has also called for a tighter application of European rules.

"This joint European asylum system cannot just exist on paper but must also exist in practice. I say that because it lays out minimum standards for accommodating refugees and the task of registering refugees," she was speaking during a joint news conference with Mr Loefven in Berlin.

Meanwhile, the country's Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, said that if countries in eastern Europe and elsewhere continued to resist accepting their fair share of refugees, the bloc's open border regime, known as Schengen, would be at risk.

But Ms Merkel said that EU states needed to find a joint solution to the refugee crisis, rather than threatening each other if they did not collaborate.

"I personally, and we spoke about this, am of the opinion that we should not now outbid each other with threats. We should speak to each other in a spirit of mutual respect."

She added that Europe needed to discuss changes to its asylum policy, as neither Greece nor Italy could take in all the refugees arriving there on boats from Turkey or North Africa. Mr Loefven echoed Ms Merkel's sentiment.

"Our responsibility is deeply moral. It is a human responsibility," he said. "We have to do this together. There are 28 countries in the EU with the same responsibility."

Smaller central and eastern European Union states have rejected any mandatory quotas for taking in refugees as the European Commission prepares to present a plan to that end.

Sweden, with one of Europe's most generous policies on immigration, expects to receive 74,000 refugees this year.

Several hundred thousand refugees and migrants from war-torn or impoverished parts of the Middle East and Africa have reached Europe this year, but those numbers pale beside the almost four million in Syria's neighbours Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Ms Merkel also spoke to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday and praised Turkish efforts to accommodate many refugees, especially from Syria and Iraq.

The pair agreed that the international community needed to make a joint effort to tackle the refugee crisis and that a political solution to the conflict in Syria was urgent .

Irish Independent

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