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Refugee crisis a 'historic test of Europe'

October 15, 2015

Angela Merkel has urged for solidarity from the EU over the handling of the migrant crisis and distribution of refugees. The call came as the German chancellor prepared to meet with her European counterparts.

Angela Merkel, October 15, 2015
Image: Reuters/H. Hanschke

Speaking from Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, on Thursday, Merkel presented her latest plan to deal with the ongoing refugee crisis and demanded "joint action on all levels" in Germany.

"It is no exaggeration to see this task as a historic test of Europe," Merkel said.

Hitting back at the recent criticism over her stance toward the crisis, the chancellor said that slamming the door shut "in the Internet era of the 21st century is an illusion."

Germany has so far taken in more refugees than any other of the 28 EU member states this year and is expected the see an estimated 1.5 million asylum seekers cross its borders before the end of 2015.

Merkel also said on Thursday that Germany must improve its efforts to deport unsuccessful asylum applicants. Compared to its EU neighbors, Germany is very much in the middle ground. The UK currently deports around 73 percent of rejected Pakistani asylum applications, Greece 44 percent and Germany 33 percent.

Refugees in Germany
More than 800,000 refugees have crossed Germany's borders so far this yearImage: Reuters/F. Bensch

Bavaria's Seehofer rails against Merkel's 'nice words'

Immediately following Merkel’s talk, one of her most prominent critics, Horst Seehofer of the Christian Socialist Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of the chancellor’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), had a few choice words for what he saw as Merkel’s open-door policy.

"Without restrictions on immigration, Germany and all of Europe will collapse spectacularly," he said in Munich, railing against "nice words" and lack of a concrete plan on the part of the federal government, which to him seemed content to do nothing and let Bavaria handle the brunt of the crisis.

"We have a responsibility for the lives of refugees," Seehofer insisted, but said Berlin was ignoring the toll it took on Bavarian resources to "provide education for the illiterate" and protect the border with Austria, considering the large number of refugees making their way from Vienna.

EU leaders address crisis in Brussels

Ahead of her meeting with the 27 EU leaders and heads of state in Brussels on Thursday, the German chancellor reiterated Turkey's role in solving the migrant crisis.

"Without a doubt, Turkey plays a key role in this situation," Merkel said.

"Most war refugees that come to Europe travel via Turkey. We won't be able to order and stem the refugee movement without working together with Turkey," she added, suggesting that the EU should offer Ankara more support in the form of humanitarian aid, helping to secure borders and shutting down criminal smuggling rings.

The Bundestag was due later on Friday morning to decide on tightening restrictions on the right to asylum, with the federal council expected to pass the amendments to the refugee policy as soon as Friday.

Infografik - Where would refugees go under the EU Commission's plan?

'Convinced' a compromise can be found with UK

As the EU also works to find a compromise with the UK to prevent a British exit from the Union, Merkel said she was "convinced" that an "acceptable compromise" would be found.

"It goes without saying that we will work constructively with the British government," Merkel said.

"But it also goes without saying that there are things that are non-negotiable. That there are achievements of European integration that cannot be haggled over, for example the principle of free movement and the principle of non-discrimination," she said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is due to hold an in-or-out referendum to determine the UK's inclusion in the EU before the end of 2017. The matter was not to be discussed at the EU summit on Thursday, however.

ksb/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)