Rising tide of migrants divides Europe further

A migrant woman crawls between police as large numbers break through the cordon of Macedonian police forces to board the bus in Gevgelija. Migrants take selfies with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) outside a refugee camp.
Migrants take selfies with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) outside a refugee camp.PHOTO: REUTERS
A migrant woman crawls between police as large numbers break through the cordon of Macedonian police forces to board the bus in Gevgelija. Migrants take selfies with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) outside a refugee camp.
A migrant woman crawls between police as large numbers break through the cordon of Macedonian police forces to board the bus in Gevgelija.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Some countries block crossings to stem influx, others step up plans to help refugees

COPENHAGEN • Denmark has become the latest flashpoint in Europe's migrant crisis, with the continent bitterly split over how to cope with the vast numbers of refugees pouring across its borders.

German generosity has sparked an angry backlash from its eastern neighbours, as more than 3,000 migrants crossed the Austrian border from Hungary during the night, and more landed on Greece's overwhelmed Aegean islands and trudged into Macedonia.

Record numbers of migrants streamed through the Balkans into Hungary yesterday, forcing Austria to suspend cross-border train services. Hungarian police said 3,321 people had entered in just 24 hours, hurrying to cross before harsh new anti-migrant laws take effect, an imposing new fence is completed, and the weather worsens.

Across the border in Serbia, state television reported that a record 5,000 people had arrived at the frontier. Further south, on Macedonia's border with Greece, AFP journalists saw some 50 buses transporting around 2,500 migrants and three trains packed with 3,000 people departing from the town of Gevgelija.

Scandinavia's busiest ferry crossing to Germany was also shut to trains after a sudden surge of migrants trying to reach Sweden on Wednesday. The move came after hundreds of migrants refused to disembark from services arriving from Germany and register in Denmark, demanding instead to continue to Sweden, which has a more welcoming asylum policy.

  • 450,000
    Number of refugees Germany has accepted since January.

  • 160,000

    Number of additional refugees to be resettled under EU plan.

Denmark's train operator said yesterday its rail services across the German border would resume, but the authorities said the ferry crossing at Rodby - one of the busiest in Scandinavia - would remain closed to trains.

Germany is pushing hard for the EU to go further than a new plan unveiled by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday to accept 160,000 refugees fleeing war in Syria and Iraq as it revealed yesterday that it has taken in 450,000 since January.

Instead, Berlin wants compulsory long-term EU quotas with no limits on numbers.The European Parliament yesterday overwhelmingly backed Mr Juncker's plans. The lawmakers also called for an international conference bringing together the EU with the United Nations, United States and the Arab states in a bid to end the crisis.

But binding quotas are already facing fierce resistance, with hardline Hungary ready to send troops to its border and Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico warning on Wednesday that his country would not bow to Berlin. And now, Macedonia is also considering building a Hungarian-style border fence to stem a rising influx of migrants from the south, Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki was quoted as saying yesterday.

Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders called the wave of refugees pushing into Europe an "Islamic invasion" during a parliamentary debate yesterday that exposed deep divisions over how the Netherlands should respond to the crisis.

In contrast, some EU members are stepping up to help deal with the crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she plans to speed up Germany's asylum process and make it easier for those allowed to stay to enter the workforce during tours in Berlin of a shelter for migrants and a school where refugee children attend.

Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg proposed hosting a donors' conference to help the millions of Syrians displaced by war, while Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz yesterday said it is the biggest central European economy's duty to accept refugees fleeing wars.

Similarly, Ireland said it would accept additional refugees from Europe's migrant crisis, taking the number expected up to 4,000.

With Europe divided by the biggest refugee crisis it has faced since World War II, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was considering resettling more Syrian refugees. "We are looking hard at the number that we can specifically manage with respect to the crisis in Syria and Europe."

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is considering allowing European naval forces to board and search ships on the high seas in an effort to combat the smuggling of migrants, diplomats said on Wednesday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2015, with the headline 'Rising tide of migrants divides Europe further'. Print Edition | Subscribe