Germany pushes EU states on migrant quotas

 Migrants wait for a bus at a collection point, after their journey from eastern European borders to reach Nickelsdorf, Austria, on Sept 11, 2015.
Migrants wait for a bus at a collection point, after their journey from eastern European borders to reach Nickelsdorf, Austria, on Sept 11, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

PRAGUE • Germany faced off yesterday against the fiercest critics of its open-door refugee stance within the European Union, as disturbing footage emerged of the way people were being treated inside one of Hungary's main migrant camps.

German Foreign Minister Frank- Walter Steinmeier met his counterparts from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia in Prague amid a bitter split within Europe on how to deal with the massive flow of people crossing its borders.

With Hungary sending more troops to its frontier where it is rushing to put up a four-metre-high fence, Germany insisted an emergency EU plan to distribute migrants was just "a drop in the ocean" as eastern member states fiercely resist Berlin's push for permanent binding quotas.

"The distribution of 160,000 refugees across Europe is a first step, if one wants to be polite," German Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said. "It's a drop in the ocean."

As a record number of refugees fleeing wars in Syria and Iraq crossed Hungary's border on Thursday, disturbing images from inside its controversial Roszke holding camp showed families being fed "like animals in a pen", with women and children caught in a scrum of hungry people frantically trying to catch sandwiches being thrown to them by police.

"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.

Such scenes raise further questions about how refugees are being treated in Hungary, where harsh new laws to jail migrants for crossing its borders - which were strongly criticised by the United Nations refugee agency - are due to come into force on Tuesday.

Meanwhile in Washington, President Barack Obama, under increasing pressure to demonstrate that the United States is joining European nations in the effort to resettle Syrian refugees, pledged to admit at least 10,000 displaced Syrians in the year starting Oct 1.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said Mr Obama had ordered staff to "scale up" the number after more than 62,000 Americans signed a petition calling on the administration to take in more people.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2015, with the headline 'Germany pushes EU states on migrant quotas'. Print Edition | Subscribe