European migrant crisis: Austria, Germany near tipping point – CNN
Vienna, Austria (CNN)The massive flood of refugees in Europe are pushing Germany and Austria to a tipping point.
Well over 17,500 refugees have poured into the two countries in just the past two days, trying to escape the bombings, terrorists and dire conditions ravaging their homelands.
“We have helped more than 12,000 people in an acute situation,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said. “We must now, step by step, go from emergency measures to a normality that is humane and complies with the law.”
Even Germany, a country with a long history of helping refugees, said it can’t keep taking in asylum seekers at the current pace. More than 17,500 migrants arrived in just the city of Munich over the weekend, police said.
“The great helpfulness that Germany has shown in these last weeks and months should not be worn thin,” the Interior Ministry said. It added that Germany’s ability to continue help is contingent on other countries stepping up.
But on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany is pledging an additional 3 billion Euros to the migrant crisis. She said Germany “is of course willing to accept more refugees,” but called on other European countries to take more in.
Moments after Merkel spoke, French President Francois Hollande announced France will accept 24,000 new refugees.
‘We went through a torture’
The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates at least 366,402 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year.
At least 2,800 have died or disappeared during the journey. Those who make the crossing face uncertain futures in European nations, which differ in their approach to asylum seekers.
Many of the migrants arrive with harrowing tales of crossing the Mediterranean, then walking from Greece through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and finally into Austria.
Austria’s border with Hungary remains open to potential refugees, Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman Alexander Marakovits said Sunday as packed buses and trains continued to arrive.
Many Austrians brought food and water and cheered for the refugees pouring onto the platform at Vienna’s train station.
One man who recently arrived in Austria told CNN of the family’s difficult journey through Hungary.
“We went through a torture,” he said, standing next to his two daughters. “We walked 110 kilometers (68 miles) with the children. They didn’t allow us to take cars or trains.”
But he said the Hungarian people “were very nice.” And the situation got better when the family arrived in Austria.
“We are comfortable here, and we like the people and the government of Austria.”
Yet of the thousands who arrived in Austria this weekend, only a dozen or so have opted to apply for asylum there, the country’s Interior Ministry said. Many want to go farther, particularly to Germany.
Fire at asylum house
But the dangers don’t stop once refugees reach Germany.
A fire broke out Monday morning at a house for asylum seekers in Rottenburg am Neckar, police said.
Five people were injured — three from smoke inhalation, two from jumping out of the building’s first and second floors. None of the rooms are inhabitable anymore.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation.
Several homes for asylum seekers in Germany have gone up in flames in recent weeks, according to German media. But the causes have not been determined.
European Union countries have an open-border policy allows the free movement of people between member states. But countries such as Hungary and Austria are clamping down on the flow of migrants.
Hungary’s right-wing government, trying to stop the flood of migrants, has erected a barbed-wire fence along its more than 160-kilometer (100-mile) border with Serbia to prevent them from crossing there. Serbia is not an EU country.
In Austria, the Interior Ministry warned that it is illegal to drive across the border to Hungary, pick up a group of migrants and transport them back to Austria.
But some are doing exactly that.
A group of volunteers from Austria, Germany and Slovakia — organized on Facebook — formed a convoy of almost 200 cars to shuttle migrants from the Hungarian border.
Erzsebet Szabo in Vienna is one of the volunteers who helped ferry migrants.
“We think that around 380 people came with us,” she said Monday morning. “We are very happy.”
Szabo said she’s not afraid of getting arrested. After all, she said, even that fate wouldn’t compare to what the refugees have endured.
“It’s a global problem,” Szabo said. “It’s very important that we, altogether, give this big sign that refugees — the people that need our help and come from the war — have our solidarity and support.”