The German government has finally been mugged by reality and will reimpose border controls that were lifted — to much praise and fanfare — last month. At least temporarily, only those with valid visas will be allowed into the country. They have also stopped all trains coming into the country from Austria.
How long the pause in continuing their open-borders policy will be is up in the air. The German states most affected by the crisis, including Bavaria, are stretched beyond their limits in trying to care for the flood of humanity. The government says that this pause will allow the states to catch their breath and replenish stocks needed to feed, clothe, and house the refugees.
But it may be longer. There is a growing backlash from ordinary Germans who are growing increasingly alarmed that their government’s heart is cashing checks its people can’t afford.
The emergency measures are designed to give some respite to Germany’s federal states who are responsible for looking after refugees. There is also discussion inside the government about sending troops to the border with Austria, to reinforce security, Der Spiegel reports.
The move comes amid extraordinary scenes at Munich’s main train station over the weekend and a growing backlash inside Germany over the decision last week by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, to allow unregistered refugees to enter the country.
On Saturday, 13,015 refugees arrived at the station on trains from Austria. Another 1,400 came on Sunday morning. The city’s mayor, Dieter Reiter, said Munich was “full”, with its capacities completely exhausted. Some refugees slept on the station concourse on Saturday night.
Germany’s surprise move comes amid bitter division inside the EU over how to deal with the tens of thousands of refugees arriving in Europe, in the continent’s worst refugee crisis for 70 years. On Sunday, east European countries again insisted they would not accept a plan for mandatory refugee quotas.
Interior ministers from the EU’s 28 states are meeting in Brussels on Monday. They will discuss a plan set out last week by Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission chief, to redistribute 160,000 asylum seekers across the bloc. The refugees would be allocated to each country on the basis of its size and wealth.
Germany, Austria and France support the proposal. But they face opposition from other EU states including Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland. On Sunday, the Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, said: “I think it is impossible to retreat. Our position is firm.”
Greek authorities, meanwhile, say 28 people have drowned, half of them children, after their wooden smuggling boat capsized in the Aegean sea. The incident happened before dawn on Sunday off the Greek island of Farmakonisi. The Greek coastguard pulled 68 people out of the water. Another 30 managed to swim to land.
Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has blamed Berlin for the crisis, and Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders. Budapest is racing to complete a fence on its border with Serbia, where 4,330 people crossed on Saturday. On Tuesday, it introduces tough laws which make crossing the border punishable with jail.
An interesting dynamic is developing in the EU with the rich, western European nations of Austria, Germany, France, and Great Britain, to one degree or another, allowing generous numbers of migrants to settle in their countries, while Eastern European nations are resisting fiercely. Hungary has been in the forefront of the fight to limit the numbers of migrants allowed on its soil, and is becoming increasingly harsh in the means it is using to discourage the refugees.
Hungary meanwhile was working around the clock to finish a controversial anti-migrant fence along its southern border with Serbia.
Hungary has seen some 180,000 people entering illegally this year and has passed a raft of tough new laws that will take effect on Tuesday, meaning anyone crossing the border illegally can be deported or even jailed.
“These migrants are not coming our way from war zones but from camps in Syria’s neighbours… So these people are not fleeing danger and don’t need to be scared for their lives,” hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Germany’s Bild daily.
He said that Merkel’s decision to relax asylum laws had caused “chaos” and accused European leaders of “living in a dream world”.
The idea that quotas would work is an “illusion,” he said. “The influx is endless: from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Ethiopia, Nigeria. If they are all going to come here, then Europe is going to go under.”
The Hungarian prime minister has a point. Refugees are fleeing the camps because they are becoming uninhabitable. The international community has completely failed to take care of the refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq — about 1.3 million people. Conditions are appalling, with food rations being cut and massive overcrowding putting a nearly unbearable strain on private and international aid organizations. Only about one third of the cash needed to take care of these people has been donated so far.
And mixed in with the refugees from camps are economic refugees who seek a better life and better opportunity in the free nations of Europe. They are taking advantage of the refugee situation in the Middle East to game the system and migrate without proper documentation or permission.
The impasse in getting 28 EU countries to agree on a policy of resettlement exposes divisions in the organization that may be unbridgeable. If so, will Germany continue to take in hundreds of thousands — perhaps, over time, millions — of refugees?
It will be interesting to see if the German people allow it.