European migrant crisis: Germany warns it is at ‘limit of capacity’ as 34 asylum seekers drown off Greece

Updated 35 minutes ago

German authorities have warned they are stretched to the limit trying to cope with a surge of asylum seeker arrivals, as tragedy struck at sea again with 34 more people — half of them babies and children — drowning off the coast of Greece.

Key points

  • Germany begins to buckle under pressure from a record influx of asylum seekers
  • Another boat sinks off the coast of Greece, leaving at least 34 asylum seekers dead
  • European nations remain strongly divided on how to handle the crisis

The Greek coastguard was able to rescue 68 people from the sea, while a further 29 managed to swim to safety on a beach.

The exact number of those aboard remains unknown but local media said the boat was overcrowded and went down because of high winds in the area.

Meanwhile local authorities in Germany, which has earned praise for its welcoming stance towards asylum seekers, have been buckling under the sudden surge of arrivals.

A total of 13,015 migrants and refugees arrived in Munich on Saturday alone, and at least 1,400 were expected Sunday (local time) to reach the southern German city — the end of their exhausting and often perilous journey through Hungary and Austria.

Effective measures are necessary now to stop the influx

German federal transport minister Alexander Dobrindt

Germany has become the destination of choice for many asylum seekers, particularly for Syrians after chancellor Angela Merkel decided to relax asylum rules for citizens of the war-torn country.

However, with 450,000 people arriving in Europe’s biggest economy so far this year, local authorities are buckling under the sudden surge.

“Given the numbers from yesterday, it is very clear that we have reached the upper limit of our capacity,” said a Munich police spokesman.

Federal transport minister Alexander Dobrindt also weighed in, saying “effective measures are necessary now to stop the influx”.

“That includes help for countries from where refugees are fleeing and also includes an effective control of our own borders which also no longer works given the EU’s complete failure to protect its external borders,” he said in a statement.

Mr Dobrindt was essentially referring to the border between Turkey and Greece, where many people have crossed.

Ms Merkel reportedly called Athens on Saturday requesting that Greece makes more effort to protect the EU’s external borders.

European Union home affairs ministers are set to hold emergency talks on Monday as “the situation of migration phenomena outside and inside the European Union has recently taken unprecedented proportions”, the Luxembourg presidency said.

While Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are housing millions of refugees from Syria, many wealthy Gulf states are facing increasing scrutiny over their apparent reluctance to take in people fleeing conflict.

‘Brink of collapse?’

In Munich, order had largely returned to the city’s main railway station on Sunday, but local authorities maintained they were at the end of their tether.

The president of the Upper Bavaria region, Christoph Hillenbrand, said he did not know “how we can cope”, according to the Bild am Sonntag tabloid which headlined its article “Munich on the brink of collapse”.

Local media said the city “came very close to a humanitarian disaster”, although the authorities finally managed to limit the numbers of people sleeping on mattresses on the floor to just a few dozens, rather than the hundreds as earlier feared.

In a sign that authorities were running out of options, regular passenger trains were to be cleared out to transport asylum seekers whereas until now special services had been used for this purpose.

The aim is to rapidly send asylum seekers onwards to other German cities to free up space for new arrivals.

The authorities are also mulling over whether to open up the Olympiahalle — a stadium used for the 1972 Olympics and which today serves as a concert hall or sports arena — as a temporary shelter for the asylum seekers.

European Union divided, ‘living in a dream world’

As the continent scrambles to respond to the biggest movement of people since World War II, sharp divisions have emerged among the European Union’s 28 member states.

While Germany and France back proposals to help “frontline” states Italy, Greece and Hungary buckling under the strain, European Commission proposals for sharing 160,000 new arrivals in a quota scheme are facing resistance from eastern members.

Hungary, which reported a new record in migrant arrivals — 4,330 on Saturday — was working around the clock to finish a controversial anti-migrant fence along its border with Serbia.

The influx is endless … if they are all going to come here, then Europe is going to go under

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban

Budapest has recorded 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 jailed.

Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.

VIDEO: UNHCR spokesman William Spindler says European nations must work multilaterally to solve the crisis. (The World)

“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,” Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has said.

He said Ms 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.”

Austria’s chancellor however compared Mr Orban’s treatment of migrants to Nazi-era cruelty.

“Piling refugees on trains in the hopes that they go far, far away brings back memories of the darkest period of our continent,” Werner Faymann said.

Divisions have also been seen on the ground, as tens of thousands marched through London on Saturday waving placards saying “Refugee lives matter”, while in eastern European capitals protesters called for refugees to “go home”.

The International Organisation for Migration said on Friday that more than 430,000 people had crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, with 2,748 dying or going missing en route.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s