Europe far from united on dealing with migrant crisis

Clockwise from top far left: Migrants trying to stay on their sinking dinghy in waters off the Greek island of Lesbos on Monday; a lifeboat from a Greek passenger ferry speeds to the rescue; some of the survivors being taken to the island.
Clockwise from top far left: Migrants trying to stay on their sinking dinghy in waters off the Greek island of Lesbos on Monday; a lifeboat from a Greek passenger ferry speeds to the rescue; some of the survivors being taken to the island.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Germany's open arms and funding pledge contrast with barriers going up in Hungary

BERLIN • Europe's diverging approaches to the refugee crisis came into sharp focus yesterday, with Germany vowing to prioritise funding to aid migrants and Hungary promising to speed up work on a barrier to keep them out.

Mr Istvan Simicsko, named Hungary's Defence Minister on Monday, said the country must devote more resources to quickly fortifying a razor-wire border fence with a sturdier structure.

That contrasted with comments from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who said other spending requests will be subordinated to provide €6 billion (S$9.5 billion) in added funds to care for the country's largest influx of refugees since World War II.

"This is a test for Germany and Europe," Mr Schaeuble told lawmakers in Berlin as he laid out the government's 2016 budget plan. "It presents all of us, the state as well as society, with the biggest challenge we've seen for a long time."

The two European Union countries have been at odds over the handling of the crisis during the past week as thousand of migrants in Hungary crossed the border into Austria and went on to Germany.

SHARING THE RESPONSIBILITY

We need an open system to share out those with a right to asylum.

GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL

Germany - which estimates that 800,000 migrants will enter the country this year, nearly four times last year's figure - is backing a European Commission (EC) plan for redistribution of migrants that will be announced tomorrow, which Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a "first important step".

"We need an open system to share out those with a right to asylum," said Dr Merkel.

EC president Jean-Claude Juncker will propose relocating 120,000 migrants in Italy, Greece and Hungary to countries throughout the EU, according to an EU official who asked not to be identified.

Britain, Ireland and Denmark will not be included because they have an opt-out on immigration policy. Mr Juncker's proposal will include €6,000 in funding per refugee for the country taking them in and provide €500 per migrant to the nation where they enter the EU, with countries that refuse to participate having to pay additional fees linked to their gross domestic product, the official said.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve yesterday condemned mayors in France who have said they are only prepared to allow Christian refugees to settle in their towns, echoing a stance taken by Slovakia on the crisis.

"I really don't understand this distinction. I condemn it and I think it's dreadful," Mr Cazeneuve told France 2 television. "A whole series of minorities are being persecuted in the situation in Syria," he said. "Christians from the Middle East must be welcomed but there are also Muslims and other minorities who are persecuted with the same degree of barbarity."

France, he said, "must be prepared to take in all those who are persecuted regardless of their religion and their background".

Meanwhile, Latin American countries have offered help with the human tidal wave fleeing Syria.

Brazil will welcome Syrian refugees with "open arms", President Dilma Rousseff said on Monday in a video message marking Independence Day, while Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered his foreign ministry to take steps to receive 20,000 Syrians. Similarly, Chile's President Michelle Bachelet said her country would be willing to accept refugees, without specifying a number or nationality.

And in a preliminary emergency appeal published yesterday, the United Nations refugee agency said it expects the number of refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean to Europe to hit 400,000 this year, and there could be 450,000 or more in 2016.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2015, with the headline 'Europe far from united on dealing with migrant crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe