Germany’s open-door policy to refugees appeared to be unravelling tonight following the country’s reinstatement of border controls to curb the overwhelming influx of migrants.
Europe’s top economy halted all trains from Austria and, in an historic move, temporarily suspended the open borders Schengen agreement in response to the arrival of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in recent days.
The decision marks a dramatic shift away from the current abolishment of passport checks throughout Europe’s Schengen zone.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said: ‘At this moment Germany is temporarily introducing border controls again along [the EU’s] internal borders. The focus will be on the border to Austria at first.
‘The aim of these measures is to limit the current inflows to Germany and to return to orderly procedures when people enter the country.
Mr de Maiziere added: ‘This step has become necessary. The great readiness to help that Germany has shown in recent weeks… must not be overstretched.’
The Interior Minister did not specify how long the border controls would remain in place or give details of exactly how incoming migrants would be handled. He said there could be disruption to rail travel.
Most migrants have been arriving by train, with 800,000 in total expected to arrive this year.
Germany’s national railway, Deutsche Bahn, said it had halted service between Austria and Germany for 12 hours at authorities’ orders.
Tonight, officials were seen carrying out the first passport checks at the country’s border with Austria.
Three Syrian migrants were stopped at the Freilassing crossing and told to remain on the side of the road in the Bavarian commune close to Austria’s Salzburg, after German officers looked at their papers.
Mr de Maiziere’s announcement came on the eve of tomorrow’s meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels, where European Commission proposals to redistribute about 160,000 asylum seekers across the bloc will be discussed.
But there are deep divisions between member states and no sign of a solution.
The Schengen agreement – allowing passport-free movement across much of the European continent – is now under real threat following Germany’s temporary opt-out, although the European Commission said rules do allow countries to reintroduce controls in exceptional circumstances.
In a statement the EU executive said: ‘The temporary reintroduction of border controls between member states is an exceptional possibility explicitly foreseen in and regulated by the Schengen Borders Code, in case of a crisis situation.
‘The current situation in Germany, prima facie, appears to be a situation covered by the rules.’
It added that the executive would keep the situation under review and said the aim would be to return to the normal situation of no border checks between member states of the Schengen zone ‘as soon as feasible’.
The European Commission added: ‘The German decision of today underlines the urgency to agree on the measures proposed by the European Commission in order to manage the refugee crisis.’
The Czech Republic also said it would boost controls on its border with Austria following Germany’s decision.
It is not yet clear exactly what the temporary measures include, but the move comes as German authorities have warned they are at ‘the limit’ in coping with the migrant crisis, with locals claiming Munich is on the brink of collapse.
German newspaper Bild cited security sources as saying the state government in Bavaria had asked the federal police to help deal with the task.
The newspaper said the federal police would send 2,100 officers to Bavaria to help it secure its borders.
Germany has become the destination for many desperate Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn home country, after it waived EU rules in August.
Tens of thousands of people have crossed Austria by train on their way to Germany since the two countries threw open their borders to the migrants last weekend. A record number were expected to enter Austria from Hungary on Sunday.
The German government announced the nation would take in applications for Syrian asylum-seekers, regardless of where they first arrived in the EU.
Munich, in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria, has been the main entry point for those entering the country.
Some 13,015 refugees arrived in Munich yesterday alone and 1,400 more are expected to reach the city today – but there are fears it is already at breaking point.
A police spokesman in Munich said: ‘Given the numbers from yesterday, it is very clear that we have reached the upper limit of our capacity.’
Federal transport minister Alexander Dobrindt added how ‘effective measures are necessary now to stop the influx’.
In a statement, he said: ‘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’.
Christoph Hillenbrand, president of the Upper Bavaria region, said he did not know ‘how we can cope’.
Bavarian public television BR said the city ‘came very close to a humanitarian disaster’, but managed to limit the number of people sleeping on mattresses on the ground to a few dozens rather than the hundreds that was first feared.
German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel added: ‘The European lack of action in the refugee crisis is now pushing even Germany to the limit of its ability’.
The authorities are considering 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 refugees.
Germany has allowed 450,000 refugees in so far this year and has been praised for the warm welcome it has afforded to migrants.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the decision to let in the huge numbers, saying she was ‘convinced it was right’.
But in recent weeks this has inflamed tensions, with the far-right taking an increasingly hostile stand to the thousands of migrants entering the country.
Last week, a three-storey house in the neat village of Gerstungen, in Thuringia, was firebombed by far-right protesters after it was revealed it had been opened to some of the 800,000 refugees set to enter Germany this year.
This year there have been 306 attacks on refugee accommodations – 46 of them torchings such as the one in the eastern state of Thuringia. Nine of them have been in the past fortnight alone.
Tens of thousands of people took part in a ‘day of action’ yesterday in several European cities – and in Australia – in support of refugees and migrants. However some cities also saw ugly counter-demonstrations.
Roughly 6,000 migrants have entered Austria since midnight, and the number for all of Sunday could surpass 10,000, which would be the strongest daily flow since Germany and Austria threw open their borders more than a week ago, a police spokesman said.
Tens of thousands of people have streamed into Austria, almost all of them continuing to Germany, since the two countries said they would let a wave of migrants, many of them refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war, enter their territory.
‘The flow of refugees remains very high’, the spokesman said. ‘I don’t think I would be wrong in saying that we might exceed the threshold of 10,000 if it continues like this.’
In the initial rush of arrivals last weekend, 16,000 to 17,000 people had crossed the border with Hungary in two days, the spokesman said.
Europe as a whole is struggling to deal with an enormous influx of people, mostly from Syria but also Afghanistan, Eritrea and other countries, fleeing violence and poverty.
The European Commission announced plans last week for mandatory quotas to share out 120,000 additional asylum seekers among 25 member countries.
But Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania are opposed to this.
Today the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban prepared an unprecedented border clampdown.
‘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, he said.
He added how Merkel’s decision to relax asylum laws had caused ‘chaos’ and accused European leaders of ‘living in a dream world’.
Hungarian police said 4,330 migrants were detained yesterday and it is rushing to complete a four-metre high (13ft) fence along its border with Serbia, as well as introducing new rules criminalising illegal border crossings and speeding up decisions about asylum requests.
The Czech prime minister also reiterated his position today. In a TV interview, Bohuslav Sobotka said: ‘I think it is impossible to retreat…our position is firm.’
Elsewhere today, 34 people – half of them babies and children – drowned when a boat carrying some 100 migrants capsized off Greece.
Meanwhile, the coastguard was continuing a search for four children missing after another boat carrying migrants capsized yesterday off Samos island.
The latest incidents come more than a week after the harrowing image of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi lying face down on a Turkish beach sparked an international outcry over the human cost of the crisis.
He drowned along with his mother Rihan and five-year-old brother Galip when their boat capsized on a short run from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3232744/We-t-German-authorities-call-urgent-action-migrant-crisis-locals-say-Munich-brink-humanitarian-disaster.html#ixzz3li9X7pav
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