Migrants arrive at the main station in Munich, Germany. (Reuters)
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BERLIN – Struggling to cope with a record influx of asylum seekers, Germany told its European partners on Monday they must take in more refugees too, saying the burden could not fall on just a few countries.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking after a weekend in which some 20 000 migrants made their way to Germany from Hungary by train, bus and on foot, described the events of the past days as “breathtaking” and tried to reassure German citizens that the crisis was manageable.
“I am happy that Germany has become a country that many people outside of Germany now associate with hope,” she said at a news conference in Berlin. “This is something to cherish when you look back at our history.”
But she and her vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, coupled their message of optimism with a warning to European Union partners who have resisted a push from Berlin, Paris and Brussels to agree quotas for refugees flowing in mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“What isn’t acceptable in my view is that some people are saying this has nothing to do with them,” Merkel said. “This won’t work in the long run. There will be consequences although we don’t want that.”
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.
“This would be a dramatic political blow for Europe, but also a heavy economic blow, also for those countries that are saying they don’t want to help now” he said.
Only months after Europe narrowly averted a Greek exit from the euro zone, the refugee crisis has emerged as the bloc’s biggest challenge, exposing deep strains.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is due to unveil new proposals on Wednesday on how to distribute refugees among member states.
An EU source told Reuters that under his plan, Germany would take on more than 40 000 and France 30 000 of the 160 000 asylum seekers the Commission says need to be relocated from Italy, Greece and Hungary, the main entry points to the EU for refugees arriving by sea and land.
The 160 000 that Juncker wants to redistribute within the EU are just a fraction of the many hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East that have reached Europe this year on leaky boats across the Mediterranean or over land through the Balkan peninsula.
Germany has announced it is letting Syrians seek asylum regardless of where they enter the EU, suspending normal rules and accelerating a flow of migrants north and west from the edges of the EU. (Reuters)