Mass Migration Seen Dividing Europe, Attitudes Harden

Germany warns that without a European effort to cope with refugees, the absence of border controls is unsustainable.

African refugees are rescued by the Belgian navy in the Mediterranean
African refugees are rescued by the Belgian navy in the Mediterranean (Frontex)

Mass immigration into the European Union is threatening to overwhelm governments and calling into question member states’ commitment to free travel within the bloc.

The German interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, warned on Wednesday that unless other European countries agreed to take in more refugees, the lack of border controls within the Schengen Area would be unsustainable.

“In the long run, there won’t be any Schengen without Dublin,” he said, referring to the agreement signed in the Irish capital that requires refugees to claim asylum in the country they first arrive in. Some border states, including Greece and Italy, have been lax in enforcing the rule, allowing refugees to travel north and claim asylum there.

De Maizière reported that Germany expects 800,000 refugees will arrive in the country this year. “Germany cannot bear the strain if, as has been the case, around 40 percent of all asylum seekers to Europe come here,” he said.

107,500 migrants arrived in Europe in July alone, a record number. 37,500 of them applied for asylum in Germany.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung estimates that the refugees will cost Germany up to €10 billion this year.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, said Europe had “failed miserably” in its approach. “It is a shame that many countries inside the EU do not want to take in any refugees or only accept a small number of them,” he told the Rheinischen Post.

In June, leaders rejected a quota system to more equally distribute migrants after hundreds had died in the Mediterranean when their boats capsized. Bulgaria, Hungary and the United Kingdom pulled out of even a voluntary arrangement to spread 60,000 asylum seekers across member states. Countries did agree to deploy naval forces to stop the smuggling of people across the sea.

Germany and Sweden admit more migrants relative to the size of their population than most while all new member states in Central and Eastern Europe except Bulgaria and Hungary take in less than half the asylum seekers they would under a proportionate system.

Austria has threatened to launch a legal challenge against the European Commission’s “unfair” proposal for a quota system. It also urged the commission on Wednesday to enforce the Dublin rules so migrants can be returned to their country of arrival.

A commission spokesperson responded saying, “This is definitely not the right time to take each other to court. It is the time to show solidarity and implement the ambitious migration agenda put forward by the European Commission.”

The same day, Slovakia said it would only accept Christian refugees anymore. Prime Minister Robert Fico cited “security risks” while a spokesman for the Interior Ministry referred to the absence of mosques in the country and told the BBC, “How can Muslims be integrated if they do not feel comfortable here?”

Hungary is building a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia in an attempt to keep out the 300,000 migrants who are expected to arrive there this year.

Although few asylum seekers settle in Hungary, it is the main entry point for migrants from the Balkans.

In addition to refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, some 40 percent of asylum applicants in Germany are from poor Balkan states, such as Albania, Kosovo and Serbia.

Handelsblatt reports that support is growing in Germany to recognize the Balkan states as safe to make it easier to return refugees there. Even left-wing leaders in the states of Baden-Württemberg, Bremen and Hamburg favor the proposal but others are wary.

Gabriel warned that German attitudes toward migrants could shift dramatically if local governments are forced to choose “between caring for refugees and renovating a school or financing a swimming pool.” Current capacity to house refugees will be inadequate if indeed as many as 800,000 arrive this year.

Tens of thousands took the streets of Dresden in former East Germany last year to protest against what they saw as the “Islamization” of Europe. The demonstrations were denounced as xenophobic by the German establishment but the sentiment is resonating elsewhere.

In Sweden, traditionally one of the most welcoming European nations to migrants, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats would now get 25 percent support, a recent YouGov poll found, making them the country’s largest party.

In the Netherlands, the nationalist Freedom Party, whose leader, Geert Wilders, is an ardent critic of Islam, is vying for second place in the polls, behind the ruling liberals.

In France, the Front national‘s Marine Le Pen could get up to a third of the votes in the first voting round of the 2017 presidential election, all but guaranteeing a victory for the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, a hardliner on immigration, in the runoff.

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