German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told an emergency summit of European leaders that refugees need coordinated help on their trek through the West Balkans. She also stressed Turkey's role in solving the refugee problem.
Merkel told leaders that the main goal of Sunday's summit in Brussels was to ensure "that the people who are wandering about and living under unbearable conditions receive help."
The refugees needed "relief, sensible shelter and facilities to wait and rest," she said.
She added that all the countries bordering the refugee route through the Balkans were all signatories to the Geneva convention on refugees and had their own standards of "human dignity."
Merkel, however, stressed that the summit was there to discuss practical issues, and proposed a joint distribution of tasks along the Balkan route. She also said that leaders should talk about setting up more registration centers on the external borders of the European Union, and about protecting these borders better.
The German leader, however, admitted that the refugee problem could not be solved at the meeting, saying that further discussions with Turkey - which was not represented at the summit - were of paramount importance.
"Cooperation with Turkey is the only way to succeed in making illegality legal and to share the burden better between Turkey and Europe," Merkel said.
Bad report for the EU
The president of the EU parliament, Martin Schulz, reprimanded EU countries for a lack of action and solidarity, saying he would give the situation in the bloc a very bad mark.
He said the agreed distribution scheme for refugees was being implemented slowly "because a large number of these countries are not participating in the distribution." Like Merkel, he also called for more coordination between the affected countries, and better protection of the EU's external borders.
The summit was called by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss a proposed 16-point plan containing emergency measures for coping with the current situation, in which tens of thousands of people are fleeing to Europe from conflict and poverty in their homelands. The plan aims to improve cooperation between the countries that are affected by the crowds of refugees.
Leaders from 10 EU countries, as well as from Serbia, Macedonia and Albania, were attending the meeting in Brussels.
Chancellor Merkel is also facing dissent on how to cope with the refugee problem from within her own government.
In an interview with the German newspaper "Bild am Sonntag" on Sunday, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel spoke out against her plans to send migrants who do not qualify for asylum in Germany to so-called "transit zones" to await deportation.
Gabriel warned against adopting "new and complicated procedures," saying that existing registration centers should offer detention and deportation facilities.
The issue of transit zones has cause a split in Germany's coalition government between Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU bloc and the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD) led by Gabriel.
"The transit zones amount to mass prisons. With the SPD there will never be such a thing, "SPD deputy chairman Ralf Stegner told the newspaper "Passauer Neue Presse" on Saturday.
Germany on Saturday introduced tougher rules on asylum seekers as the country comes under increasing pressure to gain control of the unabated numbers of migrants entering the country.
Applicants for asylum must now spend more time in reception centers, and people arriving from Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania will be refused asylum and repatriated more quickly as their countries of origin have been deemed "safe."
tj/dj (dpa, epd, AP, AFP)