Angela Merkel: Reintroducing border controls to stop migrants is not the 'Europe we want'

The German Chancellor urged EU states to agree to the fair distribution of refugees rather than violating the alliance's basic principles

Lizzie Dearden
Tuesday 01 September 2015 14:15 BST
'Europe as a whole must move and its states must share the responsibility for refugees seeking asylum,' the Chancellor said
'Europe as a whole must move and its states must share the responsibility for refugees seeking asylum,' the Chancellor said (AFP)

Angela Merkel has warned that the “Europe we want” will fade if some countries continue to demand the reintroduction of border controls rather than taking in refugees.

The German Chancellor focused on the issue of migration for her summer press conference on Monday, telling reporters in Berlin that abolishing free movement was not the only solution to the continuing crisis.

"The freedom of movement is one of Europe’s basic principles,” she added.

Migrants board a train to Munich at Vienna's Westbahnhof railway station in the early hours of September 1, 2015. (AFP/Getty Images)

"Europe as a whole must move and its states must share the responsibility for refugees seeking asylum.

"Universal civil rights so far have been closely linked with Europe and its history - it was one of the founding motives of the European Union.

"If Europe fails on the question of refugees, this close connection with universal civil rights...will be destroyed and it won't be the Europe we want.”

Ms Merkel warned that if the EU was unable to agree on how to accommodate migrants, demands for borders to be reintroduced in the passport-free Schengen zone would rise.

“If we don't succeed in fairly distributing refugees, then some people will want to put the Schengen question on the agenda,” she added.

“That’s not our aim. We want a fair allocation of refugees and then we won't have to discuss Schengen…there's no point in publicly calling each other names, but we must simply say that the current situation is not satisfactory."

Ms Merkel’s comments appeared to be aimed at some member states, including several in eastern Europe, who rejected proposals to distribute 40,000 asylum seekers according to a new quota system in June.

In Germany, which expects to receive more than 800,000 refugees this year, calls to bring back border controls have been led by right-wing politicians, and nationalist and far-right groups like Pegida.

While thousands of Germans have marched to show support for arriving asylum seekers and oppose neo-Nazism, accommodation for refugees across the country has been set on fire, vandalised and daubed with racist graffiti.

Mrs Merkel said anyone attacking migrants or their homes would face "the full force of the law", adding: "There will be zero tolerance for those who question the dignity of other people.”

Several countries have called for new restrictions, including Denmark, which said in June that it would work to prevent illegal immigration and smuggling.

Hungary, a major EU entry point for people migrating through the Balkans, is erecting a 100 mile-long razor wire fence along its border with Serbia, and authorities in Budapest today stopped migrants from boarding trains to Germany and Austria.

Austria started extra checks on vehicles entering from Hungary over the weekend, causing long traffic jams following the discovery of 71 dead migrants in a lorry last week, which Ms Merkel called “unfathomable atrocity.”

Austria's Interior Ministry told the BBC the checks would not be necessary if there were an agreement to distribute the migrants fairly.

The Schengen Agreement normally allows unrestricted travel between 26 signatory counties but in exceptional circumstances countries can reintroduce border controls to prevent crime.

The European Commission has previously said the agreement, of which the UK is not a member, is “non-negotiable”.

Syrian migrants cross under a fence into Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, 26 August, 2015 (Reuters)

Ms Merkel's statements echoed calls by charities and humanitarian organisations for European countries to share the burden of huge immigration and prevent further deaths.

Save the Children’s CEO Justin Forsyth said some nations are letting migrants “die trying” to reach their borders rather than offering them the support they need.

He added: “No single nation can solve this problem alone - EU leaders must agree a comprehensive plan that deals with root causes, takes on the trafficking gangs and puts in place an efficient, humane asylum system with burden sharing across all states and protection for vulnerable children.”

An emergency meeting has been called for 14 September to address the continuing crisis, which has seen more than 300,000 people have cross the Mediterranean this year — often those fleeing Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan – on top of thousands more crossing to Europe by land through the Balkans.

Additional reporting by agencies

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in