Germany pulled down the shutters on its borders, temporarily exiting the Schengen system and triggering a crisis as diplomats from all the EU countries struggled to reach agreement on the refugee problem in Brussels last night.
Syrians, in particular, who almost automatically qualify for refugee status, have been crossing into Germany in huge numbers, especially since Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country would welcome them last week.
But as thousands marched in cities throughout Europe demanding their governments show solidarity with those fleeing conflicts, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia were saying they would not take a quota under an EU plan due to be agreed by justice and home affairs ministers in Brussels today.
Britain and Denmark — that saw some of the biggest marches — have excluded themselves from the plan while Ireland has agreed to opt in and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will tell today’s meeting Ireland will take up to 3,600, a larger number than under the quota system.
German interior minister Thomas de Maizière said the country would temporarily exit the Schengen system after the regions, including Munich, said they could no longer cope with the numbers arriving.
All trains crossing the border from Austria to Bavaria were halted late yesterday afternoon and police began patrolling the main crossing points. This is expected to be extended to the borders with Poland and the Czech Republic. Prague said it would reinforce patrols on its border with Austria.
Berlin was reported to be considering drafting in the army to patrol the Austrian border in particular, through which about 450,000 asylum seekers have crossed this year so far.
Syrians sleep inside a greenhouse at a makeshift camp near Roszke, southern Hungary, yesterday.
With more routes being locked to refugees over the last few months they have been concentrating on entering the EU through Hungary’s border with Serbia.
But from tomorrow Hungary said it will shut its borders, refuse to take refugees and criminalise anyone trying to cross — contrary to EU and international law.
This has created almost a stampede with desperate people trying to get through as quickly as possible into Austria and from there to Germany.
But with border controls back in operation only EU citizens and those with “valid travel documents” according to Der Spiegel — passports and visas — will be allowed into the country. Germany can only take asylum requests from people inside the country, so the move is expected to lead to chaos at the border crossings.
There were signs on Friday that sufficient EU states would co-operate with the commission plan to take asylum seekers from the three most stressed states — Hungary, Greece and Italy.
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