Conflict in the EU over the refugee crisis

The crisis has exposed sharp rifts with Germany leading calls to take in more refugees fleeing conflict.

FILE: Syrian refugees wait between Syria and Turkish border as Turkish soldiers block them to pass the Turkish side, on 9 June, 2015, at Akcakale, in Sanliurfa province. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - The European Union (EU) says the refugee influx which has opened deep divisions in the bloc is here to stay and member states must adjust to this new reality.

The crisis has exposed sharp rifts with Germany leading calls to take in more refugees fleeing conflict in North Africa and the Middle East.

However, Hungary has bluntly opposed the European commission's plans for mandatory quotas saying it would only encourage more migrants to risk their lives going to Europe.

The EU's Federica Mogerini says they have to step in.

"The time for blame games is over and it's time to take decisions and turn them into actions united as Europeans."

However, it often takes a bout of disarray and recrimination before the EU finds a joint response to a new challenge. Policy may be shifting in reaction to unbearable pictures of suffering, and to fears that the Schengen zone of open-border travel among 26 continental European countries may otherwise fall apart.

"The world is watching us," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week as she tried to persuade European peers to share the burden of taking in people fleeing war and misery in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and beyond.

"If Europe fails on the refugee question, its tight bond with universal human rights will be destroyed, and it will no longer be the Europe we dreamed of," she said.

Merkel's bold attempt to exercise leadership, in contrast to her deep caution in the euro crisis, has won only cautious support from close allies like France, where domestic opposition to more immigration is strong, and been rejected outright by countries such as Hungary and Britain.

For many European politicians trying to keep in tune with voters, preventing unwanted immigration is a greater priority than welcoming hundreds of thousands of haggard, uprooted foreigners, especially if they are Muslims.


Austria and Germany threw open their borders on Saturday to thousands of exhausted migrants from the east, bussed to the frontier by a right-wing Hungarian government that had tried to stop them, but was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people.

Left to walk the final stretch into Austria, rain-soaked migrants - many of them refugees from Syria's civil war - were whisked by train and shuttle bus first to Vienna and then by train to Munich and other cities in Germany.

The last train carrying an estimated 1,000 refugees pulled into Munich from Austria at 1:30am on Sunday, bringing the total to have arrived in the Bavarian capital since Saturday to about 8,000.

Police immediately ushered the arrivals onto another train bound for Dortmund on the opposite platform, cordoned off from onlookers in the main station terminal.

Some who wanted to stay in Munich initially refused to get on the second train, which eventually set off with all the passengers about an hour later.

Most of those who arrived on Saturday were bussed to reception centres in and around the Munich after being medically screened, fed and offered fresh clothing. Many said they were from Syria, while others were from Afghanistan or Iraq.

They seemed dazed by the calls of "welcome to Munich," from the few dozen well-wishers remaining at around midnight, as well as by their determination to thrust chocolate bars, bananas or bread rolls into their hands.

A similar total is expected to arrive in Munich later on Sunday.

Munich police said Arabic-speaking interpreters were helping refugees with procedures at the emergency registration centres. The seemingly efficient Austrian and German reception contrasted with the disorder prevalent in Hungary.

"It was just such a horrible situation in Hungary," said Omar, arriving in Vienna with his family.

German Interior Ministry spokesman Harald Neymanns said Berlin's decision to open its borders to Syrians was an exceptional case for humanitarian reasons. He said Europe's so-called Dublin rules, which require people to apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter, had not been suspended.

"The Dublin rules are still valid and we expect other European Union member states to stick to them," he said.

After days of confrontation and chaos, Hungary deployed more than 100 buses overnight to take thousands of the migrants who had streamed there from southeast Europe to the Austrian frontier. Austria said it had agreed with Germany to allow the migrants access, waiving the asylum rules.