EU officials to discuss compulsory refugee quotas
Ministers to meet a day after Germany reintroduced border controls, saying it could no longer cope with arrivals.
The European Union will hold a meeting on spreading the burden of the refugee crisis across the bloc, a day after Germany admitted it could no longer cope with a record influx of refugees and reintroduced border controls.
The German decision was announced on the eve of Monday’s emergency talks in Brussels, where interior ministers are expected to debate the European Commission’s plan to distribute 160,000 refugees around the continent.
Within hours of Germany’s announcement on Sunday, German officers began carrying out the first passport checks near the border with Austria.
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As night fell, police in fluorescent vests stopped all cars and pedestrians at the Freilassing crossing in Bavaria.
Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from Berlin, said Germany’s decision “underscores the chaotic situation” in Europe, as it tries to handle the situation.
Despite an outpouring of public sympathy for the plight of the refugees, many of whom are from Syria, several Eastern European countries have already warned they will oppose any binding quotas on absorbing asylum seekers.
As the EU struggles to respond to the biggest movement of people since World War II, Germany’s reinstatement of border checks marked a U-turn on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s earlier decision to throw open the country’s doors to Syrian refugees.
The border controls effectively suspend Germany’s participation in the bloc’s borderless Schengen system, one of the cornerstones of the European integration project since it was created in the 1990s.
“The aim of this measure is to stop the current influx to Germany and to return to an orderly process,” Thomas de Maiziere, the interior minister, said.
Asylum seekers must understand “they cannot choose the states where they are seeking protection”, he said, as Germany also temporarily halted all train traffic to and from Austria.
Germany’s actions were welcomed by Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, whose own country is building a fence along its border with Serbia to keep migrants out.
“We understand that this decision was necessary in order to defend Germany’s and Europe’s values,” he told Bild newspaper.
The Czech Republic said it would also boost security on the border with Austria.
The developments came as tragedy struck again off the coast of Greece, with 34 more refugees – including four babies and 11 children – drowning when their overcrowded wooden boat capsized in high winds.
The images of hundreds of German police mobilising at the border piled on the pressure in advance of the EU meeting of interior and justice ministers on the plan to introduce compulsory quotas for admitting refugees.
Preliminary talks between the EU’s 28 mission chiefs on drafting a document for the ministers’ meeting ended without an agreement late on Sunday.
The ambassadors’ discussions are set to resume early on Monday, an EU source said, adding that Hungary in particular was insisting on greater controls on the EU’s external borders and for a higher number of migrants to be relocated.
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While Germany and France back proposals to help relieve pressure on “front-line” states such as Italy, Greece and Hungary, the quota scheme faces strong resistance from countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.
Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech prime minister, insisted his country would never accept compulsory quotas, saying the system “won’t work”, while Slovakia said it would try to block any such binding measures.
Hungary, which reported a record 4,330 newcomers on Saturday alone, is meanwhile seeking to finish construction on a controversial anti-refugee fence on its frontier by Tuesday, when tough new laws will take effect that mean anyone crossing illegally can be deported or even jailed.
For those already in Hungary, confusion reigned late on Sunday over whether they would be able to enter Germany, the preferred destination of many of the migrants.
Under EU rules, the first country of entry is required to deal with an asylum seeker’s request for protection, but Germany had waived the rule for Syrian refugees.
While earning praise for its welcoming stance, German regional authorities have caved in under the sudden surge of migrants.
In Munich, overwhelmed local officials said they were stretched to capacity, with more than 13,000 refugees arriving in the city on Saturday alone.
Merkel, whose country expects to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year, gave warning last month that the passport-free Schengen zone of 26 countries was under threat if the EU failed to work together on coping with the inflow.
“If we don’t arrive at a fair distribution then the issue of Schengen will arise – we don’t want that,” she said.
The International Organisation for Migration said on Friday that more than 430,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, with 2,748 dying en route or going missing.
The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meanwhile urged the United Nations on Sunday to consider a peacekeeping force for Syria to help stem the flow of people trying to reach Europe.