Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Migrant Crackdown Sows Chaos in Europe

At WSJ, "European Efforts to Stem Migrant Tide Sow Chaos on Austrian-Hungarian Border":
German chancellor warns of need to share burden across EU; Austria steps up border, highway checks.

Austrian and Hungarian efforts to stem a growing tide of migrants sowed chaos along their frontier on Monday as Germany’s chancellor warned that Europe’s open-border policy was in danger unless it united in its response to the crisis.

In Austria, police toughened controls on the border, triggering miles of traffic jams as they checked cars and trucks for evidence of people smuggling. They said they were compelled to conduct the highway searches after discovering the decomposed bodies of 71 people, most of them believed to be Syrian refugees, in an abandoned truck last week.

Authorities also stopped and boarded several Germany-bound trains overcrowded with hundreds of migrants, refusing entry into Austria until some of them got off. Migrants had packed into the trains in Hungary earlier in the day after officials in Budapest abruptly lifted rules barring them from traveling further into the European Union without visas.

Such temporary checks remain in accord with the Schengen Agreement, which allows people to travel freely across the borders of 26 European countries that have signed onto the treaty. But in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioned that some countries could move to reintroduce systematic passport controls at their borders—unless EU governments agreed to more equally bear the burden of the bloc’s escalating crisis, “Europe must move,” she told reporters in Berlin. “Some will certainly put Schengen on the agenda if we don’t succeed in achieving a fair distribution of refugees within Europe.”

Ms. Merkel’s warning—aimed at governments in the bloc’s east that have resisted taking on a greater number of migrants—marked her most direct intervention in the fraught debate between those European countries, such as Germany, Italy and France, that have called for a fairer distribution of migrants across the bloc, and those that have opposed binding quotas.

The comments also came as a rebuttal to opposition politicians and some members of the chancellor’s ruling coalition who have accused her of being slow to address the crisis. Echoing comments she made last week in a German town shaken by three days of antimigrant riots, Ms. Merkel urged her compatriots to welcome those fleeing war or persecution while warning that economic migrants, namely those from Southeastern Europe, couldn’t expect to settle in Germany.

“If Europe fails on the question of refugees, then [Europe’s] close link with universal civil rights will be destroyed and it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” she said.

The warning from the Continent’s most powerful leader has weight: The chancellor has repeatedly described free movement in Europe as a core value of the bloc. Her comments underline the pressure that the record wave of migrants arriving on European soil is putting on the region’s most exposed member states—mainly countries at its periphery, such as Hungary, Italy and Greece, as well as Germany and Sweden, which have received the bulk of migrants since the crisis started early last year.

Schengen rules have been contested before amid rising migrant numbers. In 2011, France and Italy called on the EU to impose tighter border controls in an effort to stop the influx of migrants unleashed by North African unrest. But the EU failed to reach a concrete agreement over how Europe should handle the wave.

Germany, which was the destination for 40% of asylum seekers in Europe last year, has repeatedly said the bloc must agree on binding quotas for the redistribution of refugees across the EU. The number of arrivals has soared over the summer months, forcing the government to nearly double its forecast for migrants this year to 800,000 from 450,000—equal to almost 1% of Germany’s population.

“We face a huge national challenge that concerns all of us, it will be a central challenge not only for days or months but as far as we can tell for a longer period of time,” Ms. Merkel said.

Germany said last week that it would allow Syrian refugees to stay in the country regardless of where they first entered the EU—both for humanitarian reasons and in an attempt to speed up the review of asylum claims filed by Syrians.

Still, Ms. Merkel said the German government had been in touch with Hungary over what she called Budapest’s misunderstanding that all Syrians could travel to Germany without having to register in Hungary. The chancellor insisted Hungary should register migrants who arrive there and review their asylum applications.
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