Friday 23 March 2018

Germany sets up border checkpoints to curb entry

Berlin restricts number of entry points for migrants arriving from Austria

MORE WILL FOLLOW: Migrants sit atop a heavily-listing small vessel as they try to travel from Turkey to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos
MORE WILL FOLLOW: Migrants sit atop a heavily-listing small vessel as they try to travel from Turkey to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos

Melanie Hall

Germany has restricted the number of entry points for migrants arriving from Austria to five border crossings, in a bid to control the influx of the thousands who are flowing daily into the country.

The German government said it had reached an agreement with Austria on the new measures after days of sparring between Berlin and Vienna over each other's handling of the migrant flow.

Authorities in the state of Bavaria, the main entry point for migrants, have complained that they are overwhelmed by the arrivals and that a lack of co-ordination with Austria is hindering efforts to aid them.

Under the agreement, 50 migrants an hour could cross into Bavaria at the five agreed points, according to Thomas Kreuzer, chairman of the Christian Social Union (CSU) parliamentary group, the state's ruling party.

However, the German interior ministry said a daily upper limit on border crossings had not yet been agreed.

"We would like to have a more orderly procedure," said a spokesman for Germany's interior ministry, with the new measures intended to reduce long waiting times to cross the border.

The number of refugees crossing the Bavarian border remains high, and by midday yesterday more than 1,000 migrants had either crossed into Germany or were waiting to enter at entry points at Wegscheid and Simbach am Inn in Lower Bavaria.

Tensions grew between Germany and Austria earlier last week as Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, accused Austria on Wednesday of transporting asylum seekers to its 500-mile-long border at night without any warning.

But the Austrian authorities hit back, with a police spokesman dismissing as "a joke" suggestions that Bavaria was unable to process the new arrivals, given that 11,000 people a day were entering Austria just at the Spielfeld crossing from Slovenia.

Several hundred right-wing protesters rallied at that border crossing yesterday, carrying banners reading 'No Way' or 'You will not make Europe your home'. A smaller group held a counter-protest, holding signs proclaiming 'Refugees Welcome'.

Meanwhile, Angela Merkel was holding crisis talks over the migrant influx this weekend with Horst Seehofer, head of the CSU and prime minister of Bavaria, as well as Sigmar Gabriel, the vice-chancellor and head of the Social Democrats, her coalition partners.

Germany expects to receive at least 800,000 asylum applications by the end of this year, although some estimates have put the figure at a million.

Last Wednesday, more than 8,000 migrants arrived in Bavaria, according to German police, where officials in Passau said they had been overwhelmed by a new influx.

Several hundred spent a night out in the cold on the Austrian side of the border before reaching Germany after the authorities ran out of beds.

Meanwhile, to the south, the dangers of the crossing from Turkey to Greece's eastern Aegean islands was demonstrated by the deaths of more than 60 refugees, half of them children, in the last three days alone. Their boats sank while trying to reach Samos and the islands of Lesbos, Rhodes and Kalymnos. But it will become even riskier as winter approaches, with plunging temperatures, heavy rain and strong winds.

Syrian refugees who make it to Samos are taken to a rough, makeshift collection of portable buildings in Vathi, the island's main town.

Other nationalities - whose documentation takes longer because their claims to asylum are considered to be less strong - are taken to a grim, fenced camp on a hillside overlooking the town. There is still some heat in the autumn sun during the day, but already emergency workers are witnessing acute health problems, including hypothermia, exhaustion and bronchial illnesses.

"We have a lot of small children arriving," said Signe Dalsgaard Jakobsen, a Danish nurse working as a volunteer. "We had a baby who was two weeks old who had a bad cold. That can be really dangerous, because their airways are so narrow and they get full of mucus so that they can't breathe. You have to suck it out and give them oxygen, but we have no facilities to do that here."

Yet they keep coming.

"People will keep coming through the winter," said Ammar Fares, 25, from Latakia, Syria's principal port. "They need safety. It will not stop."


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