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The 1 Million Migrant March on Germany
Berlin strains to keep its borders open to an estimated wave of 1 million migrants this year -- but is finding little sympathy from its European Union neighbors.
ROME — Germany’s Willkommen mat is wearing thin. In a letter posted on his party’s website Monday, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said his country now expects to receive 1 million migrants this year — up from 800,000 — among the massive wave of humanity fleeing to Europe from the Mideast and North Africa.
Gabriel’s missive came as European Union ministers held an emergency meeting in Brussels to plot a way forward in the crisis. By early Monday afternoon, ministers reportedly agreed to take military action against smugglers and human trafficking in the Mediterranean Sea. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants have crossed the choppy sea so far this year, many from Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea.
Additionally, the Guardian predicted approval for what it described as “internment camps” of refugees in Italy and Greece, as well as others outside of Europe to ease the influx across the continent.
But the EU remains deeply split on how to handle the migrants once they get to Europe’s shores. Britain and Poland made clear Monday their opposition to a European Commission plan for mandatory resettlement of 160,000 refugees among at least 22 EU states. The proposal already has been derided by a coalition of mostly eastern and central European states, but has strong support from Germany as it seeks to shift some of the burden to other nations.
For months, Berlin has prided itself as being among the most accepting of migrants seeking better lives in Europe. Gabriel’s letter makes clear that Germany is no longer willing to be the only European port in the migrants’ storm.
“Despite many conversations with our European partners, we have not been able to find a common European solution for the refugee crisis,” he wrote. “Yes, some of our partners refuse such a solution even openly. Without a common European effort, tackling the refugee crisis will not succeed. No country can accept the reception and accommodation of refugees solely on itself.
“It is necessary that we make this clear to our neighbors.”
On Sunday, Berlin shut down incoming rail service from Austria to stem the migrant flow. Trains were running again on Monday, but it was too late: Citing Germany’s crackdown, the Czech Republic embraced tighter border controls on Sunday night, followed Monday by Hungary, Austria, and Slovakia. Berlin, too, said it would need to impose what it described as “temporary” border checks to restore calm to the increased chaos.
That EU nations have taken a piecemeal, state-by-state solution to the migration wave has only worsened the crisis, said the United Nations refugee agency. In a statement Sunday, the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees said “the combination of different, individual measures … will find themselves moving around in legal limbo.”
The agency also urged the creation of EU-supported reception centers in Greece, Italy and Hungary, where the vast majority of migrants enter Europe.
Photo credit: Philipp Guelland/Stringer