Angela Merkel: plan to share 160,000 refugees across EU may not be enough

German chancellor warns Europe might have to accept even bigger numbers than those proposed by European commission

Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said a controversial plan due to be unveiled by the European commission (EC) to share out 160,000 refugees among European Union states might not be enough, and warned that Europe may have to accept even bigger numbers.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the EC president, will give details on Wednesday of his blueprint to tackle Europe’s largest refugee crisis since the second world war. He wants EU governments to agree a binding quota system that will see refugees relocated from overstretched countries such as Italy and Greece.

Speaking after a meeting in Berlin with Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, Merkel called Juncker’s proposal a first important step. But she said any new system had to be able to respond to the situation on the ground, and deal with the fact that many more refugees may come in future.

Tens of thousands of people have flocked to Germany in recent days, with 120,000 arriving in August at Munich’s central train station, and 25,000 turning up since Friday evening. Another 4,457 came on Monday. Trains from Austria are now being diverted to other German cities to ease the pressure.

One refugee, Rian Azawi, 30, speaking as he boarded a special train with 400 other refugees to Celle, a city in northern Germany, said he had fled Mosul in northern Iraq. “My city is a disaster. IS [Islamic State] has taken over. Things are very bad there.” Refugees are now being sent to towns and cities across Germany under an efficient federal mechanism.

Merkel wants something similar to take place across the EU. On Tuesday, she said the EU needed a joint system for processing asylum seekers as well as quotas. The so-called Dublin rule, which requires the first EU country of entry to register refugees, was not working, she said. “We must discuss a new asylum policy.”

On Tuesday, Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, indicated that he would not accept Juncker’s ambitious scheme. It envisages 160,000 asylum seekers shared out on a mandatory basis over two years. Other central and eastern European countries – Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – are also opposed, and say the burden sharing should be voluntary. The UK is exempt and has said it will not take part.

The disagreement comes amid chaotic scenes at Röszke, Hungary’s border town with Serbia, where refugees scuffled with security forces on Tuesday. Some who had been waiting for days for transport to take them north tried to break through police lines. A few made it, but hundreds were still stuck in open fields, with the police standing guard.

A Syrian man, who gave only his first name, Ali, told Associated Press: “We’ve been here for two days and the Hungarian government only brings one bus? We’re asking to go back to Serbia and they are not giving us this right. We’re asking to go to Budapest and they are not giving us this right. Why? Why?”

At Keleti railway station in Budapest, refugees were being allowed to board trains bound for Austria and Germany. In many cases, they were segregated from other passengers and told they could only enter certain carriages. A 300-person queue waited on Tuesday afternoon to board a train.

The situation on the Greek island of Lesbos also remained fraught. According to the International Organisation for Migration, 12,000 refugees arrived in the first five days of September. Another 48 drowned trying to make the journey. About 20,000 refugees are now camped on the island in squalid conditions in what its mayor, Spyros Galanos, has described as an intolerable situation.

So far, most Germans have welcomed the refugees. On Tuesday, volunteers gave food to already registered people taking trains further north, and prepared to meet the latest arrivals coming from Salzburg. Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s vice-chancellor, said the country could take 500,000 refugees “for several years”.

Speaking on platform 13, as the latest train from Austria pulled in, the city councillor Marian Offman said it was only right the EU introduced a quota system. He said: “We’ve shown here in Munich how you can do it in Europe.” Offman, who represents the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s CDU, said: “I’m Jewish. The plight of the refugees touches me greatly.”

Offman said Germany had a declining population and might benefit from thousands of keen young workers. He was unimpressed that some countries were refusing to take their fair share of asylum seekers. He said: “I know England has liberal traditions. You’ve accepted a lot of people from Commonwealth countries in the past. What David Cameron is doing is not England.”

On Tuesday, Merkel said the EU needed to find a common solution to the crisis, without recrimination. She said: “I personally am of the opinion that we should not now outbid each other with threats. We should speak to each other in a spirit of mutual respect.”


Luke Harding in Munich

The GuardianTramp

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