Refugee crisis tests Europe’s core ideals – Austria stops migrants at Hungarian border

A Macedonian police officer helps a dehydrated migrant, who accompanied by a fellow migrant try to get to the transit center for migrants, after crossing the border from Greece to Macedonia, near southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija, yesterday. Thousands of migrants have poured into Macedonia and board trains and busses that are taking them a step closer to the European Union. —AP

A Macedonian police officer helps a dehydrated migrant, who accompanied by a fellow migrant try to get to the transit center for migrants, after crossing the border from Greece to Macedonia, near southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija, yesterday. Thousands of migrants have poured into Macedonia and board trains and busses that are taking them a step closer to the European Union. —AP

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday said the refugee crisis facing Europe is testing the core ideals of universal rights at the heart of the European Union. “Universal civil rights have been closely linked with Europe and its history as a founding impetus of the European Union,” she said. “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, if this close link with universal civil rights is broken, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” she said, urging other EU members to accept their fair share of asylum seekers. Speaking to foreign journalists in Berlin, Merkel said: “Europe as a whole needs to move.

Member states must share responsibility for asylum-seeking refugees.” Germany, the union’s most populous country and biggest economy, expects to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year, four times more than in 2014 and more than any other EU country. “If we don’t arrive at a fair distribution then the issue of Schengen will arise-we do not want that,” she said, referring to the visa-free zone covering much of the EU and several neighbouring countries. Merkel expressed confidence that Europe would rise to the challenge, pointing to previous issues it had mastered, such as the 2008 banking crisis, and to problems Germany itself has overcome, from the 1990 reunification to its ongoing nuclear phase-out.

‘We can do this’ Germany was economically and politically strong enough to overcome the challenge, she insisted, saying: “We can do this”. Merkel said Germany must cut red tape to quickly build more shelters and train more language teachers, saying that while German “thoroughness is super… what we need now is German flexibility”. Italy especially must be offered help from other EU nations as it had taken in huge numbers of migrants arriving via the Mediterranean Sea, the chancellor said. She implicitly criticised countries including Slovakia that have rejected migrants from Islamic countries, saying: “if we start saying ‘I do not want Muslims’ … that cannot be good”. On the spate of hate crimes and attacks against refugee shelters in Germany, she vowed that the “full force of law” would be brought down on those who insult, attack or launch arson attacks targeting the newcomers. “There will be zero tolerance for those who put in question the dignity of other people,” she said.

Merkel urged citizens to stay away from far-right and xenophobic rallies, saying: “don’t follow their leaders” or those who have “prejudice, coldness, even hate in their hearts”. She thanked the many volunteers who have helped welcome refugees, saying that today in much of the world “Germany is seen as a country of hope and opportunity”. Austrian security forces stopped a Munich-bound train yesterday with several hundreds migrants on board near the border with Hungary, a police spokesman said, just hours after authorities in Budapest let them leave despite many not having the right visas to travel in the EU. Those migrants who had already been registered at refugee processing centres in Hungary would be returned to Budapest, while the others would be allowed to continue their journey, police spokesman Roman Haslinger told AFP. “There are roughly 300 to 400 migrants on board.

They are being taken off the train,” he said, and their papers will be checked. The migrants, many from Syria, formed part of around 2,000 people who had been stuck for several days in makeshift refugee camps at train stations in Budapest. Police had previously prevented them from leaving even if they had valid train tickets and papers, because they did not have the required visa to move around the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone. But on Monday there were no security forces present as the migrants rushed to get on trains leaving for Vienna, Munich and Berlin from Budapest’s Keleti station. People were running along the platform to catch an Austriabound train scheduled to leave at 1110 GMT, with some helping to lift a woman in a wheelchair into a carriage.

There were confusing scenes as a Hungarian railway employee initially refused to allow the train to leave, saying it was packed beyond capacity and some people did not have the right papers to travel. But the train eventually departed with a 20-minute delay. Under current EU regulations, known as the Dublin provision, asylum-seekers must remain in the first European country they enter while their application is being processed. Those who travel to other member states face deportation back to the EU country they originally entered. Hungary has become a frontline country for migrants arriving via the western Balkans route as they flee war and unrest in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. —AFP


This article was published on 31/08/2015