Germany's development minister has called on the EU to set up an emergency program to help Syria's neighbors deal with an influx of refugees. The European Commission appeared unimpressed by the demand.
In comments published in this Monday's edition of the German daily paper "Die Welt," Development Minister Gerd Müller called on the European Union to set up an emergency fund worth 10 billion euros ($11.09 billion) to help the three main Middle Eastern countries providing refuge for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who fled there.
"When, if not now, can the EU prove that it is a community of values, which feels a responsibility to humanity?" Müller asked.
While a growing wave of migrants arriving in Germany, Italy, Greece and other EU countries in recent weeks has been getting a lot of media attention in recent months, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have been dealing with an even bigger problem since the Syrian conflict broke out more than four years ago.
Bearing the brunt
According to the United Nations' refugee agency, the UNHCR, Turkey is currently hosting more than 1.8 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon has taken in almost 1.2 million, and Jordan, 630,000. Müller said the current focus needed to be on preparing refugee camps in all three countries for the colder weather, so that migrants being housed there don't become so desperate that they feel the need to try to reach Europe in the dead of winter.
"If we don't solve the problems there, the problems will come to us," Müller said.
The European Commission, though, appeared unimpressed by Müller's demand, saying this idea had already been discussed at a meeting of development ministers in Brussels a few weeks ago.
Ongoing German debate
However, with that last statement, Müller touched on an ongoing debate in Europe - in Germany in particular - about how to cope with the biggest influx of refugees since World War II.
Germany's Interior Ministry has estimated that a total of 450,000 refugees will have arrived in the country by the end of this year. Over the weekend, though, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said it had become clear that this figure would soon have to be revised upward.
De Maiziere, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and other members of their governing Christian Democrats have floated the idea of extending the list of "safe countries of origin" to help discourage asylum seekers from Balkan countries who may be fleeing poverty, but where no armed conflicts currently exist. Almost half of the migrants to arrive in Germany this year have come from such countries, and as such stand almost no chance of being granted asylum.
'Pocket money' debate goes on
Debate also continued on Monday about the cash each registered asylum-seeker in Germany receives monthly, something that is widely referred to in the media as "pocket money."
The conservative interior minister of the southern state of Bavaria, Joachim Herrmann, told "Die Welt" that this payment - for asylum seekers from the Balkans in particular, was an unreasonable burden on the German taxpayer. Last week de Maiziere raised the idea of reducing this cash payment, which some argue is an incentive for some refugees to seek asylum in Germany. De Maiziere said the migrants could receive in kind benefits instead of the monthly cash payment of 143 euros ($158) for single adults.
pfd/kms (AFP, dpa)