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Our View: Migrant crisis veering out of control

CHANCELLOR Angel Merkel’s decision to welcome Syrian refugees to Germany appears more misguided by the day. With 450,000 asylum seekers having already entered Germany this year, on Sunday the German government imposed temporary border controls because its capacity had been stretched to the limit. With reception centres packed with refugees, authorities in the different states have been urging Berlin to do more, while there were also calls for stricter controls “because many en route here are not really refugees.”

Meanwhile refugees were in a race to get into Hungary from Serbia after the decision of the government to close its borders from today. More than 10,000 people were registered entering from Serbia on Sunday and Monday and most, according to Reuters, were put on trains going to the Austrian border. The right-wing Hungarian government is building a metal fence across the length of its border with Serbia, claiming it wanted to secure the EU’s external border. Yesterday Austria followed Germany’s example and re-imposed border controls, after 20 years of border-free travel across the EU.

The situation has veered out of control and EU governments are deeply divided over the refugee issue, many of them unwilling to follow Germany’s example of welcoming immigrants. In this respect, Merkel’s hope that the refugees could be shared out among EU member-states proved a big miscalculation, especially at a time when many European governments are under pressure domestically from extreme right-wing, anti-immigration parties. Forcing these countries to accept refugees would strengthen the extremists.

Germany’s plan was also in violation of the 1990 Dublin Convention which stipulates that refugees must apply for asylum in the first EU country they entered. There would not have been so many refugees risking their lives to enter Greece if the convention was respected and they were forced to seek asylum there. On Sunday 34 migrants – almost half of them babies and children – drowned when the wooden boat carrying them overturned a mere 5km from a Greek island.

The fact that people were risking their lives to get into Europe – many have drowned, while 71 were found dead in a lorry on the Austrian border – was another negative consequence of Merkel’s invitation to the refugees. In a way her invitation was helping the ruthless people-traffickers to exploit desperate people – many of them not refugees – hoping to gain entry into the EU by providing expensive, high-risk transport. Now the EU has a major crisis on its hands, while the divisions it has caused among the member-states make effectively dealing with it extremely difficult.

Merkel’s decision to welcome refugees may have been guided by good intentions, but its consequences had not been thought through. It has instigated a mad-rush by immigrants – not just Syrian refugees – to enter Europe exacerbating an existing problem and making a bad situation much worse.

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