EU still looking for an agreement on how to distribute refugees.
Overwhelmed by the influx of more than 60,000 refugees who arrived in just two weeks and after receiving harsh criticism from both the regional government of Bavaria and the interior ministers of the 16 federal states, the German government decided on Sunday to temporarily reintroduce controls on its border with Austria.
Merkel’s decision is a dramatic departure from her position just a week ago, when she spoke about opening the borders to all migrants. For now, the Schengen agreements in the leading economic power in Europe has been stopped to a halt. “The goal is to stop the flow,” said Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere.
De Maiziere, in a brief appearance without questions, stated that the Dublin agreement remains in force and called on all countries of the European Union to respect the letter of the agreement, which requires to process refugees’ applications for asylum in the first country they arrive.
The government’s decision to reintroduce border controls with Austria was approved, according to the minister, “after a friendly discussion” by the three parties that make up the cabinet of the grand coalition, Merkel’s CDU, its Bavarian sister, the CSU, and SPD, the Social Democrats.
The decision announced yesterday came as the European ministers of Interior and Justice prepare to discuss on Monday the distribution by quotas to ease Greece, Italy and Hungary’s burden. It is also aimed to “stop the flow [of refugees] to Germany and back to an orderly process,” asserted De Maiziere.
“This step is a signal to Europe that Germany continues to face its responsibilities, but loads of refugees should be spread in solidarity,” said the German minister. “The introduction of border controls will not solve all the problems and the important thing is to work in crisis regions from which many people now flee,” he said.
De Maizière he recalled that Germany is not responsible for welcoming all refugees that are arriving in Europe and noted that the Dublin agreement which Germany ceased to apply for 4 weeks remains in force. “I demand that all EU Member States adhere to it in the future. Refugees cannot pick and choose a country to seek asylum.”
The announcement ends the generous position from Germany as a welcoming host painted by Chancellor Angela Merkel in the last week and which garnered praise throughout Europe.
Merkel decided, on the 4th, and after consulting with his Austrian counterpart, Werner Faymann, to open Germany’s borders to refugees stranded in Hungary, a move that caused a massive influx of asylum seekers. In the last two weeks more than 60,000 people have arrived, which completely overflowed the Bavarian regional authorities.
“We made the decision last week as an emergency move. I am convinced that it was the right thing,” said Merkel in Berlin yesterday. The Chancellor has taken the initiative to launch new measures to regulate the arrival of people seeking asylum.
But Merkel’s generous initiative was challenged with unprecedented harshness by the head of the Bavarian government, Horst Seehofer, one of her main allies and leader of the CSU, who described the decision of the chancellor as a “grave error” that will have consequences for the country for a long time. Regional interior ministers warned that the massive influx of refugees could cause chaos.
The chaos began to take place this weekend in Munich, which declared itself overwhelmed by the constant arrival of refugees. On Saturday, 12,200 people arrived to the city, according to federal police. At five in the afternoon on Sunday the flow stopped after the order was given to close the border and suspend rail traffic with Austria.
Before the announcement, some 1,800 refugees were on their way to Munich, a “worrying” situation according to UNHCR. “The various border controls in countries have now left refugees in legal limbo,” said the UN agency.
Munich this weekend reached the limit of its capacity for humanitarian assistance in a central railway station full of refugees.
The massive influx of refugees and the impotence of the city to offer a roof and a bed, prompted the mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter, to send call for help to his colleagues in other German cities and, indirectly, to the Federal Government.
“I do not know what to do with refugees,” said the mayor before the cameras of the second television channel, ZDF, on Saturday night. “Munich and Bavaria are unable to face this great challenge alone and I am disappointed to have to admit that we have no more places for refugees arriving in the city,” added the mayor.
In the absence of shelters, hundreds of people had to sleep on the street from Saturday into Sunday while others spent the night in the halls of the main railway station. This reality reawakened the solidarity of the population. Thanks to the call from the mayor, hundreds of people came to the station to donate mattresses and sleeping bags.