Austrian authorities said more than 7,000 people had walked over the border from Hungary on Saturday. The Austrian state railway company estimated it would have transported 7,500 migrants before stopping services for the night.
Similarly, a total of about 6,000 people had passed through Munich’s central station by Saturday evening, according to Simone Hilgers, the spokeswoman for the agencies in Upper Bavaria providing migrants with immediate support.
All were given food and drink, and most were housed in temporary accommodation. Munich police said Arabic-speaking interpreters were helping refugees with procedures at the emergency registration centers.
“We are giving a warm welcome to these people today,” Hilgers said. “We realize it’s going to be a big challenge but everybody, the authorities and ordinary citizens, are pulling together.”
A 28-year-old veterinarian from Hama in Syria said he fled to avoid mandatory military service. “They asked me to join the army. I am educated. For years I’ve been holding a pen. I do not want to hold a weapon,” Sami Al Halbi told the Associated Press. “We all want to have a better future.”
The migrants were given an unexpected reception as they arrived in Austria and in Germany after some difficult days in Hungary. Waiting Austrians held signs that read “Refugees welcome,” and well-wishers brought supplies, food and toys for the children arriving exhausted after days and weeks of travel.
Harald Neymanns, a spokesman for the German Interior Ministry, said Berlin’s decision to open its borders to Syrians was an exceptional case for humanitarian reasons. He stressed that the requirement for people to apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter had not been suspended.
“The Dublin rules are still valid and we expect other European Union member states to stick to them,” Neymanns said on Saturday. Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed the decision in a telephone conversation with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Orban’s anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner government has been quick to condemn Germany’s acceptance of hundreds of thousands of asylum applications from Syrian refugees. “It’s not 150,000 [migrants coming], that some [in the EU] want to divide according to quotas,” Orban said. “It’s not 500,000, a figure that I heard in Brussels; it’s millions, then tens of millions, because the supply of immigrants is endless.”
Merkel was also criticized for her decision by the CSU sister party in her government coalition, with Bavaria’s Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann saying Saturday that “it cannot go on like this.”
Herrmann said that every refugee coming to Europe was heading for Germany, and the country could not afford to deal with the situation alone. It was a “completely wrong signal within Europe” he said, which should be corrected.
Hundreds more refugees began to walk from Budapest towards the border with Austria on Saturday. But Hungarian authorities said there would be no more buses to transport them to the border.
“The provision of buses towards Austria was a one-off and there will not be more vehicles sent to refugees walking along the road toward Vienna,” Hungary’s police chief Karoly Papp told a news conference.
EU foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg
A meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Saturday failed to agree on any practical steps for dealing with the record number of migrants arriving in Europe.
The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a tweet by Foreign Office after meeting said: “Moderate movement” after “controversial debate,” but yet no solution on redistribution of #refugees in #EU”
Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner expressed frustration at the lack of action. “Given the challenges facing our German friends as well, all of Europe needs to wake up,” she said. “Whoever still thinks that withdrawal from the EU or a barbed wire fence around Austria will solve the problem is wrong.”
Chancellor Merkel has called for an overhaul of EU refugee policy.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann called for an emergency summit of European leaders on September 14.
OPINION: German leadership vs European powerlessness
More and more refugees are making their way to Europe and the continent is overwhelmed. All of Europe? No. Germany is confronting the powerlessness because it can and it must, says DW’s Rob Mudge.
As the refugee drama escalates, Europe-bashing also increases. Voices of outrage grow louder: at best, the European Union is being criticized for the lack of action and at worst, it is being accused of incompetence and powerlessness when dealing with the refugee crisis.
During the Greek crisis, one meeting of ministers followed the next, and special summits were held on a weekly basis. But in the refugee crisis, nothing has been done for weeks. In August, officials in Brussels went where they always go: On vacation. And even now, the sluggish bureaucratic system in Brussels is still moving along slowly. The EU has yet to come up with coherent and effective answers.
Brussels can’t do everything
On the other hand, it’s unfair to blame just the EU. Brussels cannot take care of the decisive question – where the numerous refugees will be accommodated. The sovereign EU states have reserved the right to regulate such matters on their own. They are failing on a grand scale with regard to reaching at least one agreement on a voluntary refugee quota. Many member states – despite the European canon of values – just don’t want to accept any refugees. You can’t beat that mix of powerlessness and cynicism.
The Greek crisis has already shown that individual states are more reliable than the EU Commission and the Brussels circuit when it comes to addressing issues in a halfway acceptable manner. And let’s not delude ourselves: The approval of all 19 euro nations was officially needed to pass the bailout measures for Greece – but without Germany’s guidance, it would not have happened.
And that is why the current refugee crisis, which is much more dramatic on a humanitarian level than Greece’s financial and economic crisis, shows that no answers can be expected from such a large alliance of countries. Of course, this comes as no surprise, as interests and egos within the EU vary, just like their finances and state structures.
Germans want to help
Germany is expecting more than 800,000 refugees this year. When these figures were made public, they were first met with the usual whiny cacophony of responses like: How is that going to work? Or: Germany is already overwhelmed and anyhow, what about the others? What are they doing about the situation?
But look at the touching images from Munich this week – the storm of helpers who are providing assistance to the newcomers. That is how a country that can and must help should react.
Other countries admire the Germans’ commitment, especially Britain, whose prime minister emphasized for days that his country would not accept more refugees. David Miliband, former foreign secretary and Cameron’s old rival, tweeted an image of German soccer fans in different stadiums holding up banners with words of solidarity for the refugees written on them. Miliband had two words for this picture: German leadership.
More German unilateralism, please
That is exactly the point: The others are unable or unwilling and Germany does indeed have the funds and the means. This irks Brussels centralists who are worried about overall European structures and fear a renaissance of strong nation states. They do not wish to tolerate unilateral action – and certainly not from Germany.
These critics, however, have overlooked the fact that unusual events require a different approach, one that does not correspond to the EU’s supranational norms, but – despite all the problems and adversities – is and will be more effective than any half-hearted and time-consuming compromises that would have come out of EU-wide negotiations.
Germany should and must lead the way in the refugee crisis, which will be with us for a long while, perhaps years. The scope of the situation is still unclear. But in retrospect, history will show that Berlin, and not Brussels, made decisions to move ahead and took the necessary measures.
Finland Prime Minister welcomes refugees in his spare home
Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipila has reacted to Europe’s migrant crisis by offering his spare home to refugees. Sipila said everyone in Europe should ask themselves what they can do to help asylum seekers.
Sipila told Finnish television on Saturday that he and his wife had decided to make the house in central Finland available from January. The house has been empty since the family moved to Helsinki.
Sipila’s offer is likely to cause tensions within his center-right governing coalition which comprises his own Center Party, the pro-EU conservatives and the populist, euroskeptic Finns Party, given rising unemployment and recession.
The Finns Party is the second largest in Finland, with a policy of wanting tougher immigration laws, although it has distanced itself from Europe’s far-right parties.
The Sipila’s spare home is in Kempele, a central Finnish town of 17,000. Details about the size of the house and how to apply were not immediately available.
Sipila, a former telecoms executive, made the offer on Finnish MTV television following complaints over the opening of refugee centers in towns across the sparsely populated Nordic nation.
“I ask everybody to stop all hate speech and concentrate on taking care of people that are fleeing from war zones, so that they feel safe and welcome here in Finland,” Sipila said.
“We all should think what we can do ourselves,” he said. “The more citizen activity we can find to [resolve] this matter, the better.”
An asylum seeker “deserves a human treatment and genuine welcome greeting from us Finns,” he added.
On Friday, Sipila’s government doubled its refugee arrivals estimate for this year up to 30,000. Last year, 3,600 sought asylum in Finland.
The Sipilas have another house near Helsinki as well as use of a government residence.
Offer safe haven: Israeli opposition leader
In parallel initiative, Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Israel should take in Syrian asylum seekers.
“Jews cannot be indifferent while hundreds of thousands of refugees are seeking a safe haven,” he told the “Haaretz” newspaper.
“I call on the government of Israel to act towards absorbing refugees from the fighting in Syria, on top of the humanitarian steps that are already being done,” he added.
Herzog leads the Labour Party, the largest opposition bloc in parliament.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has urged Israel to allow Palestinian refugees fleeing the war in Syria to travel to the West Bank and Gaza for shelter, instead of making the risky passage to Europe, according to the Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Abbas was apparently referring to Palestinian refugees whose families were expelled when Israel was founded in 1948 and who have left Syria since the outbreak of its civil war in 2011.
Israel has treated many wounded from the Syrian civil war raging next door but has so far stopped short of opening its border to citizens of its longtime enemy.
This year, Israel’s military has carried out a number of raids and airstrikes on suspected Hezbollah sites and Syrian army targets on the Syrian side the Golan Heights after rockets were fired at Israel’s Galilee region.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan plateau from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it 14 years later. That move has never been recognized by the international community.
Merkel demands total overhaul of EU refugee policy
Chancellor Angela Merkel has threatened to seek legal action against EU countries in breach of refugee agreements. Several Syrians thanked her at the end of a press conference in Essen.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she would continue to hold “intense” negotiations with her European counterparts on the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. Merkel emphasized that all tasks and liabilities associated with the influx of migrants needed to be distributed equitably among EU member states to ensure a “fair distribution of the burden.”
“Europe’s current policy toward asylum seekers is not working,” she said at the Funke Mediengruppe, a media organization in the city of Essen. “This entire system will have to be overhauled.”
On Thursday, Merkel announced alongside French President Francois Hollande that binding distribution quotas were necessary to manage migration numbers across EU member states. She emphasized that the refugees crisis and its challenges could only be met if Europe managed to cultivate a joint responsibility and called on the majority of EU member states to discontinue their refusal to take on further immigrants.
Merkel also stressed that all EU nations were expected to live up to the Geneva Convention on refugees, repeating her threat of seeking legal action against states which stood in breach of European immigration policy.
“All of Europe will have to be put to the test according to the size and economic power of each country,” Merkel said.
The chancellor also said that refugees who were running away from war and political turmoil in their home countries would be treated differently from economic migrants.
“Those who have a realistic outlook of staying here will have to be processed quickly and distributed among our member states,” Merkel said.
Dozens of Syrians showed up in Essen to thank the chancellor for accepting migrants from Syria, where years of civil war have forced millions to flee the country.
Osama Khal, who attended the event, said that they all wanted to “thank Mrs Merkel for announcing that Germany would accommodate Syrian refugees.”
Far-right protestors also attended the public part of Merkel’s tour of Essen and interrupted her speech on several occasions with boos. The neo-Nazis held up a flag of the youth wing of the far-right extremist National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).
Merkel also used her speech to highlight the problem of rising far-right sentiments, saying that Germany was under renewed threat of terrorism at the hand of radicalized people with fascist ideologies.
“We have to remain vigilant and observe the latest developments while decidedly standing up against them,” Merkel said during her speech.
She added that a “disgrace” such as the series of murders committed by the National Socialist Underground movement (NSU) must not be repeated. Merkel reiterated her zero-tolerance stance toward hate-mongering and xenophobia, stressing that attacks against migrants and asylum seekers’ homes would be prosecuted with the full weight of the law.
Putin blames United States for migrant crisis in Europe
Russsian President Vladimir Putin has blamed Europe’s migrant crisis on the US, for imposing its standards on the Middle East and Africa while failing to understand their culture and traditions. Emma Burrows reports from Moscow.
President Putin on Friday blamed the migrant crisis in Europe on the United States for imposing its own standards on countries in the Middle East and Africa while failing to understand their culture and traditions.
In the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, Putin told the media that it was an “absolutely expected crisis.
“We in Russia, and your humble servant, said several years ago that there would be massive problems if our so-called Western partners carry out what I have always called an ‘incorrect’ foreign policy, especially in the regions of the Muslim world, in the Middle East and North Africa, which continues to this day,” he said.
Europe ‘blindly following American instructions’
Putin said that he was “surprised” to see the media in the US criticize Europe’s “cruel” treatment of migrants when the country is not affected by the crisis. He continued to say that Europe is “blindly following American instructions,” and suffering badly, according to reports in Russian state media.
His comments come a day after the spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova, said Europe could learn from Russia how to deal with the refugees. She said Russia had taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine, saying “these people were provided with shelter, food and benefits.”
Svetlana Gannushkina, a human rights activist and founder of the Citizen’s Assistance Committee in Moscow, vehemently disagrees. “To say Russia has taken such a huge number of Ukrainian refugees is simply a bare-faced lie. Only a few hundred people from Ukraine have refugee status in Russia,” she said.
In Europe ‘refugees are humiliated’
Zakharova told DW that she could not comment on Gannushkina’s comments, but pointed to a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s website which said 5,996 Ukrainians had asked for refugee status, rather than temporary asylum, in Russia.
“We are not saying we do not have problems,” she said. “We do because nobody could predict that one million refugees would come to Russia from Ukraine. But you won’t find the same situation here as in Europe where refugees are humiliated.”
Official statistics from Russia’s Federal Migration Service suggest that at the end of 2014, there were 790 people in Russia who had refugee status. They include 419 people from Afghanistan, 229 from Ukraine and two from Syria.
According to Gannushkina, there are around 500,000 people in Russia who should be considered refugees, around 10,000 of whom she said were from Syria.
Of the migrants arriving in Russia, Gannushkina said, most arrive legally with a visa and then claim asylum.
Recent reports now suggest that some Syrians are using Russia as a transit point into Europe. The Wall Street Journal writes that migrants from Syria are flying to Russia, traveling North and trying to cross the border near Murmansk into Norway. Norway is not a member of the European Union, but is a part of the visa-free zone.
The problem with migrants who remain in Russia and who try to claim refugee status, Gannushkina said, is that they are sometimes barred from accessing official channels of help because they are not issued with the correct papers which document their status.
“They have nothing to eat,” she said, “and no one is dealing with this. There are cases when someone comes to us and they’ve just walked around Moscow for two weeks, they don’t know where to go, the police don’t speak their language and terrible things happen. Nobody helps them.”
Putin suggested that Europe’s failure to tackle the migrant crisis was a result of US policy “imposing its standards without taking into consideration historic, religious, national and cultural specifics of these regions.”
Agreeing with the president’s comments, Gannushkina said Putin’s criticism could also be leveled at Russia regarding Soviet and Russian foreign policy in countries such as Afghanistan and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
By making it “almost impossible” for migrants to claim refugee status, she also accused the Russian authorities of “not fulfilling their responsibilities.” Many years ago, she said, “I asked a question to one of the leaders in the country: ‘Why did we join the Convention [on the status of refugees]?’ He said: ‘We want to look civilized.'”
“Joining the convention,” Gannushkina said, “is not just about being respectable, it’s about being responsible.”
Russia continues backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Putin said that Syrians “are not escaping the Bashar Assad regime. They are running from ‘Islamic State’ which has seized territories [in Syria and Iraq].”