PRAGUE: Eastern Europe rejected migrant quotas yesterday despite German warnings over the “biggest challenge” in EU history, amid disturbing footage of refugees in Hungary being fed “like animals.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met counterparts from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia in Prague, but failed to convince them to accept an EU plan to distribute 160,000 refugees around the continent. “We’re convinced that as countries we should keep control over the number of those we are able to accept,” said Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek after the meeting.
Record numbers of people, many of them fleeing war and conflict, continued to pour into Europe, with around 7,600 entering Macedonia in the last 24 hours.
Faced with the with the surge, Germany says that the EU plan does not go far enough, but Chancellor Angela Merkel has few options for convincing countries that refuse to take part, having already rejected punitive measures such as cutting EU subsidies. Hungary’s response has been to send more troops to help build a four-metre fence along its southern border, and images from inside its controversial Roszke holding camp showed families being fed “like animals in a pen”, with hungry women and children caught in a scrum as police threw sandwiches at them. “It was inhumane and it really speaks for these people that they didn’t fight over the food despite being clearly very hungry,” said Austrian volunteer Michaela Spritzendorfer, who filmed the scenes.
They raised further concerns over the treatment of refugees in Hungary, which saw record numbers of arrivals on Thursday and is set to implement harsh new laws next week that will allow it to jail migrants. The UN’s refugee agency welcomed the EU plan to distribute refugees, but said more was needed to relieve pressure on frontline states. “The relocation scheme can only succeed if it is accompanied by large-scale emergency reception, assistance and registration efforts in the countries most impacted by arrivals, particularly Greece, Hungary and Italy,” said spokesman William Spindler, adding that 200,000 places would be needed by the end of 2016.
‘I’m no child-kicking racist’
Meanwhile, a Hungarian camerawoman who caused global outrage after being caught on film tripping and kicking refugees, including children, as they fled police said she had “panicked”. “I’m not a heartless, child-kicking racist camera-person,” said Petra Laszlo, who was sacked by N1TV, an Internetbased television station close to Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, after the footage went viral.
The numbers of migrants streaming through the Balkans into Hungary on Thursday was the highest yet recorded, many braving police truncheons and torrential rain in their desperate attempt to reach Western Europe. The surge, which Hungarian police said saw a record 3,601 people enter the country on Thursday, forced Austria’s train operator to suspend services with Hungary due to “massive overcrowding”.
Others, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Afghanistan or Pakistan, have endured treacherous and often deadly sea journeys across the Mediterranean to reach European soil. The UNHCR said yesterday that Syrians make up 70 percent of those arriving through Greece and half of the 380,000 people who have crossed the Mediterranean.
‘An accountancy exercise’
Much of Eastern Europe remains bitterly opposed to relocating migrants, even though the vast majority are heading north. Of 16,000 migrants registered in Austria since Monday, all but around 1,100 are aiming for Germany, local authorities said. “It is inappropriate to talk about mandatory quotas, calculated on an extremely bureaucratic basis, almost like an accountancy exercise I might say, without consulting member states,” said Romania President Klaus Iohannis. His views chimed with those of Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, who said Wednesday he did not “want to wake up one day and have 50,000 people here about whom we know nothing”. Juncker’s proposals include a possible revision of the EU’s much-criticised Dublin Treaty, under which asylum claims must be processed by the first country where refugees arrive.
EU lawmakers called for an international conference on migration bringing together the United States, United Nations and Arab countries. Facing criticism that his government has been too slow to help, US President Barack Obama pledged to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over a year starting October 1. Spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama had ordered staff to “scale up” the number after over 62,000 Americans signed a petition calling on Washington to take in more people. Meanwhile on Lesbos the boats kept arriving, with hundreds making a grueling 50-60 kilometer walk from their landing place to the main town to be registered. “We have been walking for four hours. There is no bus, no taxi, no water, no anything,” said Mohammed Yassin al-Jahabra, a 23-year-old English literature student. Thousands of people have been forced to camp on the streets in squalid conditions, and there were repeated clashes as riot police struggled to control huge crowds pressing forward to board ferries. — AFP