Split over migrant crisis could damage idea of Europe, German minister says

A young migrant girl holds a teddy bear as she stands among other migrants outside the main railway station in Munich, Germany, on Sept 1, 2015.
A young migrant girl holds a teddy bear as she stands among other migrants outside the main railway station in Munich, Germany, on Sept 1, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

ANKARA (REUTERS) - Divisions over how to handle the continent's biggest refugee crisis since World War Two could damage the "idea of Europe" Germany's labour minister said on Thursday, calling for a fairer distribution of refugees within the EU.

Andrea Nahles said Europe had "come to a crossroads", and that poor handling of the influx of asylum seekers from countries like Syria was fuelling scepticism towards the EU. "We need to have more distribution of refugees because we cannot see the end (of the problem)... It would be far easier when we do not have pressure only on Sweden, Germany and Austria," she said on a visit to Turkey.

Nahles rejected comments by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban earlier in Brussels, who said that because so many migrants wanted to reach Germany, it was a "German problem". "When we are not able to solve this problem as Europe and we now start to say 'that is a German problem, that is a Swedish problem, that is an Italian problem,' then the idea of Europe will be affected," she said.

Hundreds of thousands of people, many fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, have reached Europe this year in a massive influx that has divided EU members and raised questions about the sustainability of the bloc's open-borders regime, one of its proudest achievements.

Germany now expects around 800,000 asylum seekers this year - a four-fold rise on 2014 - but Nahles said its strong economy and infrastructure meant it was in a position to "rise to the occasion". She said Germany had no threshold for the number of asylum seekers it would accept, and was easing access to the labour market for new arrivals.

However she warned the warm welcome offered by Germans to asylum seekers could sour if other countries did not pull their weight. "That's why we need a European solution, not because we are now at a point where we can't handle the problem, but (because) maybe we will come to it," she added, speaking at a briefing before a G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bankers in the Turkish capital this week.