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Germany To Unveil Refugee Plan Amid Crisis

  • RFE/RL

Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany plans to unveil a comprehensive package later this month to deal with the nation's growing refugee crisis, and she urged other EU member states to accept their fair share of asylum seekers.

Germany expects to receive around 800,000 asylum seekers this year, four times more than in 2014 and more than any other country in the European Union.

Speaking to reporters in Berlin on August 31, Merkel said her government would announce the German plan to speed up the processing of asylum applications and the building of shelters for refugees, many of whom are now staying in container homes and tent cities.

But, she added, "Europe as a whole needs to move."

She said Italy must be offered help from other EU states, as it has taken in huge numbers of migrants arriving via the Mediterranean Sea.

Merkel warned that the crisis represents a touchstone and that "if Europe fails on the question of refugees, if this close link with universal civil rights is broken, then it won't be the Europe we wished for."

The United Nations says some 300,000 people have fled war and economic hardship in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia for Europe so far in 2015.

Merkel criticized countries that have rejected migrants from Muslim countries, saying, "if we start saying, 'I do not want Muslims,'...that cannot be good."

Four central European countries -- Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia -- have blocked proposals from Brussels that envisage EU member states accepting binding quotas on asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece.

"We strongly reject any quotas," Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia, which has a population of around 5.4 million, said on August 31. "If a mechanism for automatic redistribution of migrants is adopted, then we will wake up one day and have 100,000 people from the Arab world, and that is a problem I would not like Slovakia to have."

Fico said Europe should focus on tackling the causes of the crisis. He criticized Western support for opposition groups in Syria and Libya, saying the strategy had helped fuel civil wars there and thus the flight of so many people.

The Czech Republic also rejected quotas, with President Milos Zeman saying, "The Czech Republic should take care of its borders on its own, it should expel illegal migrants...even using the army, should it be needed."

European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, sounded a wary note at a news conference in Ljubljana, saying, "The EU cannot be blamed for the migration crisis. Europe is not the source of this crisis."

Tusk added, "We have to be aware that today we have in the whole world almost 70 million displaced people. And almost all of them are looking for the access to Europe, because Europe is today the most attractive place for them. Because of our tolerance, because of our stability, because of this traditionally openness. And this is why for us, for Europeans the problem of migration is much more difficult than for the United States or Russia, for other powers and other countries."

Hungary, an eastern outpost of Europe's passport-free Schengen area, has become a major transit route for tens of thousands of migrants bound for western Europe via the Balkans.

But Hungary is putting the final touches on a fence along its border with Serbia in a bid to stop the influx of migrants.

Meanwhile, some 2,000 people, mainly from Syria, have been stuck for several days in makeshift refugee camps at a train station in the Hungarian capital, Budapest.

Most of the migrants arriving in Hungary aim to move on to wealthier countries farther west, such as Germany and Austria.

With reporting by dpa, Reuters, and AFP
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