Europe’s migration crisis continues
LONDON - Europe’s migration crisis continues to escalate ahead of a critical EU emergency meeting with breakdowns in the flow of migrants through southern Europe as Hungary and Germany continue to struggle with the influx.
EU justice and interior ministers are to meet in Brussels on September 14th to deal with the hundreds of thousands of migrants pouring into the continent. The meeting is billed as more than a session to address a specific crisis. The very philosophy of the European Union hangs in the balance as European countries fail to agree on a common policy and take different tacks in dealing with the unprecedented migration challenge.
The interior ministers of Germany, France and Britain issued a joint statement calling for the emergency meeting, underlining the need to take “immediate action” to deal with the migration crisis.
While Germany has shown itself open to accepting large numbers of migrants and expects to receive some 800,000 refugees in 2015, France and the United Kingdom are less willing to back an open-door policy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that unless other EU countries change their policies, Germany could push to cancel the Schengen agreement, which allows for unrestricted travel between 26 European countries.
“If we don’t succeed in fairly distributing refugees then, of course, the Schengen question will be on the agenda,” Merkel said at an August 31st news conference in Berlin. “We stand before a huge national challenge. That will be a central challenge not only for days or months but for a long period of time.”
So far this year more than 150,000 migrants — mostly Syrians — have taken the southern European route into Europe after landing in Greece. Migrants usually traverse Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to reach Hungary, which is in the Schengen zone. More than 100,000 others have taken the more perilous Mediterranean crossing to Italy.
Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and particularly Hungary have become overstressed due to the number of migrants. Hungarian authorities closed Budapest’s main train station to refugees and migrants on August 31st.
The closure was said to be the result of pressure from other EU countries trying to cope with arrivals from Hungary.
Migrants camped outside Budapest’s Keleti station chanted, “Germany! Germany!” as a majority of those sought to board trains heading to Germany or Austria.
In addition to the hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, Europe is also facing a massive influx of immigrants from Balkan states.
France, Britain and Germany are backing calls for centres to be set up in Italy and Greece to register arrivals and for a common EU list of “safe countries of origin” to be established. This would allow asylum applications from Syrians, Iraqis and others to be fast-tracked, while rejecting those from Balkan or inter-EU states.
France and the United Kingdom agreed to beef up security at the Calais port in mid-August, while the EU said it would allocate funds to transform the existing tented encampment in Calais — commonly described as a “jungle” in the media — into a “humanitarian” camp for asylum seekers.
The United Kingdom recorded its highest net migration in 2014. Net migration for this year, as of March, hit a record of 330,000. The news split public opinion and political parties, particularly as UK Prime Minister David Cameron took office promising to significantly reduce migration into the country.
UK Home Secretary Theresa May described the European migration system as “broken” in an op-ed published August 30th in the Sunday Times. She said the European Union was gradually realising that Schengen was only serving to exacerbate the crisis, adding that European leaders need to consider “the consequences of uncontrolled migration”.
May came under criticism from rivals for equating migrants with asylum seekers. Yvette Cooper, Labour Party leadership contender and shadow home secretary, called on the government to do more to help genuine asylum seekers, particularly those fleeing violence in Syria.
“We have long called on her to do more to help Syrian refugees but the government won’t because they are included in the net migration target. Increasing the rhetoric doesn’t help anyone. What we need is sensible and practical policies instead,” Cooper said.
Speaking September 1st at the Centre for European Reform, Cooper accused leaders of “political cowardice” and called on Britain to accept 10,000 refugees.