Germany is back-pedalling on its earlier stated open borders policy and has suspended freedom of movement, as EU governments fail to deal with the migrant crisis.
Germany re-introduced border controls on Sunday 13 September, and stopped train traffic from Austria. This is the route by which as many as 450,000 refugees, most fleeing the war in Syria, have come into Germany via the Balkans this year.
The German Interior minister Thomas de Maizière said the public resources of the southern German states were exhausted by the scale of the current migrant flows.
Germany has been relatively generous to the refugees and is trying to pressure fellow EU member states to offer sanctuary to more of the migrants. De Maizière said migrants “cannot choose the states where they are seeking protection”.
These moves came ahead of a summit on Monday 14 September. The meeting of EU interior ministers failed to agree on a proposal to “share” up to 160,000 refugees; they will resume discussions on 8 October. Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia oppose compulsory quotas for relocating refugees currently in Italy, Greece and Hungary, so-called “frontline states”. In contrast, Germany says it now expects to take one million refugees this year.
Meanwhile, Hungary has completed the sealing of its southern border with Serbia with a four-metre high fence, topped with razor wire, that stretches 175 km. The far-right prime minister Viktor Orbán has made it a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment, to be an illegal migrant in Hungary.
Presiding at a graduation ceremony for 850 new police, who will be sent to guard the border, Orbán said: “Hungary is a country with a 1,000-year-old Christian culture. We Hungarians don’t want the worldwide movement of people to change Hungary.”
Behind those new police officers stands the army, bristling to defend Hungary’s and Europe’s borders against... who? Against desperate families, young and old men and women, with their children and babies, fleeing war and grinding poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Such is the tension at the Hungary-Serbia border it is easy to imagine that a massacre might take place; there is already brutality. Police have harried and chased migrants; a Hungarian journalist behaved atrociously by tripping up a child and a man carrying a child as she filmed them running from the police.
The EU is, collectively, rich and could absorb the refugees seeking to make their lives here, but EU governments need to stop demonising migrants. They have to put resources into, first, dealing safely with the migrant flows, and, second, resettling people, with adequate housing and public services for all.
2,700 people have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, including, on Sunday 13 September, 34 migrants, among them four babies and 11 children, off the coast of Greece.
David Cameron has visited Lebanon and Jordan, where huge numbers of refugees from Syria are living. He lectured EU colleagues that they should follow his lead, and put more money into camps in the Middle East in an attempt to stem the refugee tide. “I would encourage others to step up to the plate and spend and invest in the way Britain has done.”
But Cameron remains unmoved and refuses to increase his pledge for the UK to take just 20,000 Syrians over the next five years.
We must increase the pressure and make the case for the EU to open its borders and let the refugees in!