Chancellor Angela Merkel has again pledged that Germany will lead Europe from its migrant crisis as thousands of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan arrived unexpectedly in the country by train from Austria and Hungary, prompting Budapest to close its main railway station.
Germany is struggling to cope with a record influx of 800,000 asylum-seekers this year – more than any other European Union member state. But at a press conference in Berlin, Ms Merkel insisted that her country was equipped for the challenge, despite revelations that the crisis would cost taxpayers an extra €3.3bn (£2.4bn) next year.
“Germany is a strong country,” she said. “We have managed to cope with so many things. We will cope with this and if there are obstacles, they will have to be overcome.”
Ms Merkel added that if Europe failed to tackle the refugee crisis, it would not be “the Europe that we want” and that its claims to champion human rights would be “kaput”.
Ms Merkel’s remarks came less than 24 hours after an estimated 3,600 desperate refugees from Syria and Afghanistan arrived in the Bavarian capital, Munich, and the neighbouring town of Rosenheim by train from Hungary and Austria.
Bavarian police said they were overwhelmed by the sudden influx. Chaotic scenes were reported at Munich's main railway station, where thousands of refugees spent the night in the trains they arrived in. Commuters were said to have supplied the new arrivals with breakfast rolls and water. On Monday the Hungarian government decided unilaterally to waive EU asylum regulations stipulated under the so-called Dublin agreement and allow thousands of refugees gathered at Budapest railway station to travel to neighbouring Austria and Germany. Under EU rules refugees must apply for asylum in the first EU country they set foot in.
But the authorities in Budapest responded to sharp EU criticism of their decision and promptly shut down the city’s main and severely overcrowded Keleti railway station for westbound trains. There were tense scenes as hundreds of baton-wielding riot police cleared the station of refugees hoping to enter Germany.
Thousands gathered outside the station. Kept at bay by police, they chanted “we want go Germany” and “Merkel, Merkel”. Some waived makeshift placards bearing the words “babies are tired” and “we want gooo”. Several Syrian refugees said they had paid €125 for train tickets to Munich and that they could not understand why they were being detained.
The crisis also sparked a diplomatic dispute. Austria accused Germany of failing to respect the Dublin agreement and said Ms Merkel had encouraged refugees in Hungary to travel westwards. Ms Merkel insisted that she had only pointed out that Syrian refugees would most likely be given war refugee status. “Given the situation in Syria that should be not surprise.”
It was not immediately clear whether Ms Merkel’s remarks about Syrian war refugee status had prompted Hungary to waive its Dublin treaty obligations. Hungary’s controversial right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced he would attend a refugee crisis summit with EU leaders on Thursday to try to clarify the situation.Reuse content