Train­loads of mi­grants reach Aus­tria and Ger­many, as EU asy­lum sys­tem col­lapses

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Train­loads of mi­grants ar­rived in Aus­tria and Ger­many from Hungary on Mon­day as Euro­pean Union asy­lum rules col­lapsed un­der the strain of a wave of mi­gra­tion un­prece­dented in the EU, ac­cord­ing to EurAc­tiv.

As thou­sands of men, women and chil­dren - many flee­ing Syria’s civil war - con­tin­ued to ar­rive from the east, author­i­ties let thou­sands of un­doc­u­mented peo­ple travel on to­wards Ger­many, the favoured des­ti­na­tion for many.

The in­flux is a cri­sis for the Euro­pean Union, which has elim­i­nated bor­der con­trols be­tween 26 “Schen­gen area” states but re­quires asy­lum seek­ers to ap­ply in the first EU coun­try they reach - some­thing that is of­ten ig­nored as mi­grants race from the fringes of the bloc to its more pros­per­ous heart.

In line with EU rules, an Aus­trian po­lice spokesman said only those who had not al­ready re­quested asy­lum in Hungary would be al­lowed through - but the sheer pres­sure of num­bers pre­vailed, and trains were al­lowed to move on.

“Thank God no­body asked for a pass­port [...] No po­lice, no prob­lem,” said Khalil, 33, an English teacher from Kobani in Syria. His wife held their sick baby daugh­ter, cough­ing and cry­ing in her arms, at the Vi­enna sta­tion where po­lice stood by as hun­dreds of mi­grants raced to board trains for Ger­many.

Khalil said he had bought train tick­ets in Bu­dapest for Ham­burg where he felt sure of a bet­ter welcome af­ter traips­ing across the Balkans and Hungary.

“Syr­i­ans call (Chan­cel­lor) ‘Mama Merkel’,” he said, re­fer­ring to the Ger­man leader’s rel­a­tively com­pas­sion­ate re­sponse so far to the mi­grant cri­sis.

Late on Mon­day, a train from Vi­enna to Ham­burg on which mi­grants were trav­el­ling was met in Pas­sau, Ger­many, by po­lice wear­ing bullet-proof vests, ac­cord­ing to a Reuters wit­ness.

Po­lice en­tered the train and mi­grants were asked to ac­com­pany them to be reg­is­tered. About 40 peo­ple were seen on the plat­form.

Merkel, whose coun­try ex­pects some 800,000 mi­grants this year, said the cri­sis could de­stroy the Schen­gen open borders ac­cord if other EU coun­tries did not take a greater share.

“If we don’t suc­ceed in fairly dis­tribut­ing refugees then of course the Schen­gen ques­tion will be on the agenda for many,” she told a news con­fer­ence in Ber­lin. “We stand be­fore a huge na­tional chal­lenge. That will be a cen­tral chal­lenge not only for days or months but for a long pe­riod of time.”

Merkel likened the test Ger­many faces in cop­ing with the flood of refugees to the chal­lenge of re­uni­fy­ing the coun­try 25 years ago, and called on cit­i­zens to show flex­i­bil­ity, pa­tience and open­ness.

She said Ger­many must speed up the vet­ting of asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions, build more cen­tres for new ar­rivals and en­sure that the costs of tack­ling the cri­sis were fairly shared be­tween the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, states and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

In some of her strong­est lan­guage to date, she promised “zero tol­er­ance” to­wards hate crimes ha­rass­ment of refugees.

She stopped short of sin­gling out other Euro­pean coun­tries for re­fus­ing to take on refugees but made clear that it was im­por­tant for the bloc to reach agree­ment soon on a com­mon asy­lum pol­icy that spread the bur­den more widely.

But it is far from cer­tain her view will pre­vail when EU min­is­ters hold a cri­sis meet­ing on Septem­ber 14. Bri­tain, which is out­side the Schen­gen zone, says the bor­der-free sys­tem is part of the prob­lem, and a bloc of cen­tral Euro­pean coun­tries plans to op­pose any bind­ing quo­tas.

Refugees who man­aged to board the trains head­ing west on Mon­day mixed with well-heeled busi­ness trav­ellers and tourists, some of whom were an­gry over the de­lays to their jour­ney.

Out­side Vi­enna sta­tion, thou­sands of sup­port­ers of the mi­grants chanted, “Refugees are welcome here”. also and

“These peo­ple need help, they have come from a hor­ren­dous sit­u­a­tion, we should not think twice about help­ing them,” said Ot­twin Schober, a re­tiree from Vi­enna who was moved by the dis­cov­ery of a truck­load of 71 dead mi­grants in Aus­tria last week.

Aus­trian author­i­ties have stopped hun­dreds of refugees and ar­rested five traf­fick­ers along the high­way from Hungary where the aban­doned truck was found near the Hun­gar­ian bor­der.

In­te­rior Min­istry of­fi­cial Kon­rad Kogler de­nied the clam­p­down, which in­cludes in­creased checks on the eastern borders, vi­o­lated the Schen­gen ac­cord on free move­ment.

“These are not bor­der con­trols,” said Kogler. “It is about en­sur­ing that peo­ple are safe, that they are not dy­ing, on the one hand, and about traf­fic se­cu­rity, on the other.”

At Mu­nich, po­lice said around 400 mi­grants had ar­rived on a train from Hungary via Aus­tria, mostly Syr­ian refugees.

Mo­ham­mad al-Aza­awi, 18, from Syria, said he had aban­doned his en­gi­neer­ing de­gree and fled the coun­try af­ter be­ing wounded by a car bomb. He showed re­porters scars on his stom­ach.

His brother Ahmed said they had paid 3,000 eu­ros to make their way via Tur­key, Greece, Made­do­nia, Ser­bia, Hungary and Aus­tria. The fam­ily had had to sell their house to raise the money.

The Euro­pean Union could soon fund and set up new re­cep­tion fa­cil­i­ties for asy­lum-seek­ers in Hungary as it is al­ready do­ing in Italy and Greece, Mi­gra­tion and Home Af­fairs Com­mis­sioner Dim­itris Avramopou­los said on Mon­day.

Say­ing he would travel to Bu­dapest soon, Avramopou­los told re­porters that the EU ex­ec­u­tive was ready to of­fer fur­ther help to the gov­ern­ment as it takes in large num­bers of peo­ple cross­ing the Balkans to reach the Euro­pean Union and would “if nec­es­sary, set up a hotspot in Hungary”.

“Hungary is un­der pres­sure, as is the case of Greece and Italy,” Avramopou­los said near the Chan­nel Tun­nel ter­mi­nal at Calais, where he was re­view­ing ef­forts by France to man­age asy­lum seek­ers try­ing to reach Bri­tain.

Hotspots will serve in part to bol­ster na­tional ef­forts to process re­quests for refugee sta­tus. They have also been pro­moted by Ger­many, France and other wealth­ier states to help en­sure their south­ern neigh­bours register and fin­ger­print those ar­riv­ing, rather than al­low them to head north unchecked.

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