In a Belgrade park, refugees wait out Europe’s confusion


BRUSSELS—In a Belgrade park, refugees wait out Europe’s confusion, European Union leaders meeting in Brussels must stop blaming each other over migration and consider ways to strengthen the bloc’s borders, a top EU official urged Wednesday, amid concerns about deepening division over the bloc’s response to the historic crisis.

Separately, in what amounted to a political warning shot on the day of the emergency summit, the European Commission informed 19 countries, including Germany, Greece and Hungary, that they could be penalized for not properly implementing asylum rules.

Relations are already strained amid the crisis, with many overwhelmed countries ignoring long-standing policies and the bloc struggling to find a common front. A handful of countries—including Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania—were outvoted Tuesday on a mandatory plan to distribute asylum seekers around the bloc.

Wednesday’s summit is focused on finding other ways to stem the influx, including encouraging cooperation with Turkey, increasing support for refugee camps in front-line state around Syria and protecting common EU borders.

Warning that “millions, not thousands” of Syrian refugees are headed toward Europe, European Council President Donald Tusk said ahead of the meeting that the EU must regain control of external borders after weeks of “mutual recriminations and misunderstanding.”

Mr. Tusk said that after visiting Turkey and Jordan, where around three million Syrians are living, it became clear that these countries “are expecting our help to solve the refugee problem, rather than thinking how they can help us.”

“It is likely that more refugees toward Europe will flow through, not less. Especially since almost all of them feel invited to Europe,” he said.

The European Commission announced it was going to double its emergency funding for countries in and outside Europe dealing with the refugee crisis to €9.2 billion, including almost one billion for Turkey.

“Since May we have left no stone unturned to find money to tackle the crisis,” EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a news conference.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged on her way into the meeting that the international community, including Germany, “have not seen that refugee camps are underfunded, that people are starving there.” She said the European Commission’s initiative to beef up funding for the World Food Program by €200 million, included in its new funding promise, would be matched by Germany.

She also said it was vital to protect the bloc’s external border and ensure that incoming migrants are properly registered upon arrival. “It cannot be that Europe says we can’t handle this. We can do this. I do think Europe has the strength to deal with this,” she said.

Countries on the bloc’s eastern edge, who are historically less open to migration, have reacted angrily to parts of the EU’s response to the crisis.

Slovakia’s leader said the EU’s decision to go forward with a plan to distribute migrants had caused a deep rift, and vowed not to implement it. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has blamed Germany for the influx, saying on Wednesday during a visit to Bavaria that Berlin’s efforts shape the response to the crisis smack of “moral imperialism.”

But Austria’s Chancellor Werner Faymann said that Tuesday’s decision to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers across the bloc was just the beginning, indicating that EU governments will be asked to take in more refugees arriving in countries such as Greece and Italy

“We prevented the collapse of the banks, now we need to prevent the collapse of humanity in Europe,” he added.

On Wednesday, the Commission, the EU’s executive, warned that the 19 countries—of a total of 28 in the bloc—failed to inform the Commission about how they apply minimum EU standards on housing, food, health and psychological care and employment for migrants, and could face sanctions if they aren’t applied.

Mr. Juncker said he was asked by four to five prime ministers to make sure that EU asylum laws are applied equally across the bloc, though he didn’t say who they were. “Some will be surprised to find themselves on the list,” he added.

Germany, Greece and Italy are under scrutiny over how they return migrants denied asylum, although no details were given.

Hungary was singled out for its methods in fingerprinting migrants entering its territory, while Greece is under scrutiny for what the Commission says isn’t observing the rights of children and underage people in need of international protection.

Hungary, which has taken the toughest stance, insists that it is maintaining EU rules to the letter.

“If the European Commission comes out with concrete points where EU legislation isn’t properly followed, we will look at it and rectify it,” one Hungarian official said. “But to generate this whole hysteria about Hungary…that isn’t something we approve of.”

The countries targeted are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania, Sweden and Slovenia.


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