Monday, September 14, 2015 6:00 am
Germany re-imposed border controls on Sunday after Europe’s most powerful nation acknowledged it could scarcely cope with thousands of asylum seekers arriving every day.
A day before deeply divided European Union ministers tackle the migrant crisis, the U.N. refugee agency also called on every member state to take in a share of asylum-seekers under a Brussels plan which some countries are fiercely resisting.
Berlin announced that the temporary measure would be taken first on the southern frontier with Austria, where migrant arrivals have soared since Chancellor Angela Merkel effectively opened German borders to refugees a week ago.
“The aim of these measures is to limit the current inflows to Germany and to return to orderly procedures when people enter the country,” said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere.
Open borders among the European countries which signed the Schengen Treaty are a crucial part of the EU project, but controls can be re-introduced, provided they are only temporary.
“The free movement of people under Schengen is a unique symbol of European integration,” the EU’s executive Commission said in a statement. “However, the other side of the coin is a better joint management of our external borders and more solidarity in coping with the refugee crisis.”
At an emergency meeting on Monday, interior ministers from the EU’s 28 member states will discuss Commission proposals to redistribute about 160,000 asylum seekers across the bloc.
“We need swift progress on the Commission’s proposals now,” the Commission said in a statement issued as tens of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa made their way north.
EU envoys meeting on Sunday evening in Brussels failed to break the deadlock, with some eastern states still refusing to accept binding quotas of refugees. They argue the plan will draw more people to Europe and disrupt their homogeneous societies.
Amid the political bickering among European governments, the crisis claimed yet more lives. On Sunday 34 refugees, almost half of them babies and children, drowned off a Greek island when their boat sank, the coast guard said.
Germany, Europe’s largest and richest economy, has become a magnet for migrants making journeys by sea and land, often via Turkey and the Greek islands, and then onwards through the Balkans, Hungary and Austria. Police said around 13,000 arrived in the southern German city of Munich alone on Saturday, and another 3,000 on Sunday morning.
Now Germany has joined smaller and poorer countries such as Greece and Hungary that are struggling to manage the huge flow of desperate people.
As trains for Germany were stopped, groups of refugees and migrants camped out in an underground carpark in the Austrian city of Salzburg, near the border. Traffic backed up along one of the highways between the two countries.
Austrian news agency APA quoted Chancellor Werner Faymann as saying that Vienna would not introduce additional border controls for now but that the effect of Germany’s decision on Austria was hard to predict.
Trains from Austria to Germany would be stopped until 5:00 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Monday, the interior minister of the state of Bavaria said. A Reuters photographer also saw a German police checkpoint on one of the Austrian roads into Germany.