Merkel says Europe needs joint asylum system, refugee quotas

BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that Europe needed to implement a joint system for dealing with asylum seekers and agree to binding quotas on how to distribute refugees across the continent.

“This joint European asylum system cannot just exist on paper but must also exist in practice – I say that because it lays out minimum standards for accommodating refugees and the task of registering refugees,” she told a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in Berlin.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Monday that if countries in eastern Europe and elsewhere continued to resist accepting their fair share of refugees, the bloc’s open border regime, known as Schengen, would be at risk.

But Merkel said that European Union states needed to find a joint solution to the refugee crisis, rather than threatening each other if they did not collaborate.

“I personally, and we spoke about this, am of the opinion that we should not now outbid each other with threats,” she said. “We should speak to each other in a spirit of mutual respect.” She added that Europe needed to discuss changes to its asylum policy as neither Greece nor Italy could take in all the refugees arriving there.

Earlier, Germany told its European partners they must take in more refugees on Monday as it struggles to cope with record numbers of asylum seekers and as police in Hungary used pepper spray on migrants who broke out of a reception centre at the border.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking after a weekend in which 20,000 migrants entered Germany from Hungary by train, bus and on foot, described the influx as “breathtaking” and tried to reassure the country the crisis was manageable.

Dramatic images from last week, especially a photograph of a Syrian toddler drowned on a Turkish beach, have created new political pressure to open doors, even in countries that argued previously that taking in too many migrants could make the problem worse by encouraging others to make dangerous voyages.

“I am happy that Germany has become a country that many people outside of Germany now associate with hope,” she said at a news conference in Berlin. But she and her vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, coupled their message of optimism with a warning to EU partners who have resisted a push from Berlin, Paris and Brussels to agree to quotas for refugees flowing in mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“What isn’t acceptable in my view is that some people are saying this has nothing to do with them,” Merkel said. “This won’t work in the long run. There will be consequences although we don’t want that.” Gabriel said that if countries in eastern Europe and elsewhere continued to resist accepting their fair share of refugees, the bloc’s open border regime, known as Schengen, would be at risk.

“This would be a dramatic political blow for Europe, but also a heavy economic blow, also for those countries that are saying they don’t want to help now,” he said.

At Roszke, on Hungary’s border with Serbia, around 300 migrants broke through a cordon around a reception camp and set off down the wrong side of the motorway towards the capital Budapest, Reuter’s witnesses said.

Police were unable to prevent their escape despite using pepper spray as migrants scuffled with officers. Only months after Europe narrowly averted a Greek exit from the euro zone, the refugees have emerged as the bloc’s biggest challenge.

Greece asked the European Union for aid on Monday to prevent it being overwhelmed by refugees, as a minister said arrivals on Lesbos had swollen to three times as many as the island could handle.

The crisis also spilled into Denmark as some 800 people entered the country from Germany and tried to head to Sweden while politicians argued about Copenhagen’s immigration policies.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is due to unveil new proposals on Wednesday on how to distribute refugees among member states.

An EU source told Reuters that under Juncker’s plan; Germany would take on more than 40,000 and France 30,000 of the 160,000 asylum seekers the Commission says need to be relocated from Italy, Greece and Hungary, the main entry points to the EU for refugees arriving by sea and land.

The 160,000 that Juncker wants to redistribute within the EU are just a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East who have reached Europe this year on leaky boats across the Mediterranean or over land through the Balkan Peninsula. Many have died en route.

Germany has announced it is letting Syrians seek asylum regardless of where they enter the EU, suspending normal rules and accelerating a flow of migrants north and west from the edges of the bloc.

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