Friday 20 April 2018

Growing tension between EU countries over asylum burden

Hungarian soldiers adjust the razor wire on a fence near the town of Asotthalom, Hungary.
Hungarian soldiers adjust the razor wire on a fence near the town of Asotthalom, Hungary.
A young Syrian girl waits with her family to board a bus to take her to a reception centre after she crossed the border from Serbia into Hungary close to the village of Roszke .

Harriet Alexander in London

Countries in the European Union that do not take their fair share of migrants should have their funding cut, Austria's interior minister has said, as the country began checking every car along the Budapest-Vienna motorway.

Queues of 30 miles built up along the Austro-Hungarian border yesterday as Austrian police stepped up security checks in an attempt to arrest illegal immigrants and people smugglers.

By midday, they had detained 200 migrants and five people smugglers attempting to cross from Hungary. So far this year, the Hungarian government has reported more than 140,000 migrants entering the country from Serbia - many of them Syrians.

Last week an abandoned lorry was found in Austria containing 71 dead migrants, four of them children.

"The main aim is to target smuggling gangs," said Helmut Marban, police spokesman. "What is happening here are controls conducted by traffic police and security forces - these are not border controls."

And Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the Austrian interior minister, said that the members of the EU needed to act together to deal with the biggest influx of migrants and refugees since the Second World War.

"You can't just cherry-pick within the European Community," she said of countries which have resisted accepting many asylum-seekers.


Germany - which expects to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year, four times more than in 2014 and more than any other EU country - has also called for a fairer distribution of refugees between EU countries.

One way to put pressure on those states which do not take their fair share, would be "scrapping or cutting financial support", Ms Mikl-Leitner told German public broadcaster ZDF.

"Either Europe fails because of the refugee issue" or it will emerge stronger through a "fair" distribution of refugees, she said.

She added that building a fence - as Hungary is doing on its border with Serbia - was no solution and the idea that such a move would discourage refugees was an "illusion".

Yet as she was speaking, hundreds more migrants were on the move towards Germany, boarding a train from Budapest.

Reporters in the Hungarian capital witnessed the exodus, as guards on board the train carefully checked the documentation of those leaving.

Hungarian police had previously prevented as many as 2,000 migrants from leaving the station because they had no legal papers. Migrants are required to register in the first EU country in which they set foot - although in practice many skirt this ruling, amid fears they will be sent back to that initial country and prevented from travelling onwards to northern Europe.

The EU on Sunday summoned ministers to an emergency summit on migrants to discuss solutions to the unprecedented crisis, as the death toll on land and sea continues to grow.

Luxembourg, which holds the rotating EU presidency, called interior ministers from all 28 member states to an extraordinary meeting on September 14, saying: "The situation of migration phenomena outside and inside the European Union has recently taken on unprecedented proportions."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier called on her EU neighbours to do more as Germany expects the number of asylum seekers that it receives to quadruple to about 800,000 in 2015.

"If Europe has solidarity and we have also shown solidarity towards others, then we need to show solidarity now," she said in Berlin. "Everything must move quickly."

Luxembourg said the meeting would focus on policies on sending some migrants home and measures to prevent human trafficking. Seven people died when their boat sank off Libya's coast on Sunday, the second such fatal accident at sea within days.

The Italian coastguard said some 1,600 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean and brought to Italy over the weekend.

At least 2,500 migrants have died since January, most of them drowning in the Mediterranean after arduous journeys fleeing war, oppression or poverty in Syria and other parts of the Middle East and Africa or further afield.

The horrors faced by migrants were brought to the heart of the European mainland on Friday when 71 bodies, including those of a baby girl and three other children, were found in an abandoned refrigeration truck in Austria.

The dead, believed to be refugees from Syria or possibly Afghanistan, had been packed into the truck with just one square metre (10sq ft) of space per five people, police said on Sunday, as initial forensic tests indicated they had suffocated. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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