Europe’s migrant crisis continues, as Germany’s patience may be wearing thin – CNN
Nickelsdorf, Austria (CNN)As more migrants poured into Hungary on Sunday, the will of the German government to relieve more pressure there — like it had done a day earlier — appeared to grow thinner.
Germany’s taking in of thousands of people who entered Hungary while fleeing entrenched bloody conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan should be seen as the exception and not the rule, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier reportedly said on Saturday.
“The help in (Friday’s) emergency situation was tied to an urgent reminder not to make that the practice for the coming days,” he said at a meeting of Europe’s foreign ministers in Luxembourg, according to the website of the German newspaper Die Zeit.
For days, thousands of migrants had been caught in a tedious waiting game in Hungary, many holed up in hot, overcrowded trains.
Police, at times in riot gear, faced off with distrusting migrants who did not want local authorities to process them. They feared mistreatment and were intent on making it farther north, mostly to Germany. Hundreds of migrants took off on foot for the Austrian border with the final goal of transiting to the place of their dreams.
Germany is attractive to refugees because of its robust economy, strong democracy and long history of taking in refugees. After World War II, in the face of the Cold War, Germany instituted liberal policies toward applicants for political asylum.
And word has gotten out to people fleeing wars and other political strife.
Austria, which first accepted the migrants on Saturday before allowing them to continue on to Germany, dealt a slap to other European countries over the challenge Germany has greatly shouldered on its own.
“All of Europe must wake up now. The dreaming has to end now,” said Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner on Saturday. “Now, it’s up to the continent of Europe.”
Exhausted in the rain
Under a cold rain, waves of exhausted migrants poured into the border town of Nickelsdorf, in Austria’s Burgenland state on Saturday.
More than 8,000 refugees arrived in Austria Saturday, according to the Interior Ministry’s press office. Only a handful applied for asylum there. The rest continued on to Germany.
Earlier, a group of Austrians waiting at the border with Hungary let out welcoming cheers as busloads of refugees pulled up and weary passengers clutching children streamed toward them. The Austrians had come to welcome the convoys of buses with food and water.
The refugees carried their meager belongings in backpacks as they exited the vehicles in the rain.
Applause broke out among the waiting Austrians as the migrants walked on foot over the border.
The Austrian Red Cross was also on hand to provide medical supplies and warm blankets.
Their arrival caps an emotional week for the migrants, many of whom had walked for hours before boarding buses provided by the Hungarian authorities.
The migrants had set off on foot from Budapest’s main Keleti station, where they had been waiting for days to travel onward. The station had become a focal point of the crisis engulfing parts of Europe, as the largest wave of people probably since World War II sought to reach Northern and Western Europe.
The people refused to go to holding camps set up by the Hungarian government — fearing mistreatment and the possibility they’d be unable to continue their journey north.
Hungary’s right-wing government erected a barbed-wire fence along its more than 100-mile long border with Serbia in a bid to prevent migrants crossing illegally.
And on Friday, lawmakers passed a package of bills — due to take effect September 15 — aimed at tightening border restrictions to prevent migrants from entering illegally, Hungarian news agency MTI reported.
Speaking to reporters before a meeting of EU foreign ministers Saturday in Luxembourg, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto defended his country’s response.
“What has been happening in Hungary are two things — first, the failed migration policy of the EU, and the second one is series of some irresponsible statements made by European politicians,” he said.
Search for a Solution
But now, no one is sure exactly what will be done for the thousands of migrants from Syria and other countries traveling north through Europe.
Addressing reporters after Saturday’s Luxembourg meeting, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Europe is finally starting to see the problem for what it is — not just affecting certain EU states, such as Italy and Greece, but a Europe-wide issue.
“We also have to start using the right words. It is partially a migrant flow, but it is mainly a refugee flow, which puts us in a different situation when it comes to our legal and moral duties,” she said. It’s also a situation that is “here to stay,” she warned.
Mandatory quotas have been rejected by some EU members. However, a voluntary system makes decisions more difficult, she said, so common systems are needed to speed up the process.
More must also be done to tackle the networks of people traffickers exploiting migrants who seek to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy, or to travel from Greece via the Balkans to northern Europe, she said. Restoring stability to Libya and finding a political solution to the war in Syria are key to resolving the issue longer term, she said.
Europe must remember its own history of wars and conflicts, she added, as it considers its responsibility to help and protect refugees.