BERLIN – Hungary’s populist prime minister called Saturday for a massive aid package to be given to countries around war-wracked Syria to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe, as EU leaders clash over how to cope with the influx.
German proposals for compulsory quotas within the Europe Union were rebuffed by nations in the east on Friday, with Slovakia’s foreign minister saying: “Migrants don’t want to stay” there.
Meanwhile, public pressure on politicians was growing, with tens of thousands of people expected to take part in a Europe-wide “day of action” in solidarity with refugees on Saturday.
Pressing his Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovakian counterparts at a meeting in Prague, Germany’s foreign minister warned the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants could be “the biggest challenge for the EU in its history”.
“If we are united in describing the situation as such, we should be united that such a challenge is not manageable for a single country,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, calling for “European solidarity”.
The International Organization for Migration said over 430,000 migrants and refugees had crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2015, with 2,748 dying or going missing en route.
Germany has taken the lion’s share, admitting 450,000 refugees so far this year, most of them fleeing violence in the Middle East, particularly Syria, and Asia.
But Steinmeier’s appeal for EU members to accept proposals to share around 160,000 migrants fell on deaf ears among eastern nations.
Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak said he wanted a solution “that is not imposed” but “made jointly”.
“Migrants don’t want to stay in Slovakia,” he added bluntly.
Denmark’s right-wing government also said it would not take part in the quota scheme.
With criticism growing of Hungary’s treatment of thousands of people passing through on their way to northern Europe, premier Viktor Orban said he wanted 3.0 billion euros ($3.4 billion) handed to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the first ports of call for Syrians trying to escape conflict.
“If it takes more money, we will increase aid until the refugee flows are drying up,” Orban told Germany’s Bild newspaper.
“These migrants do not come from war zones but from camps (in these border countries), where they were safe.
“They are not fleeing danger — they have already fled and should not fear for their lives.”
They come to Europe not “because they seek safety but because they want a better life than in a camp. They want a German life, perhaps a Swedish life”.
“But it’s a fact: there is no fundamental right to a better life, only a right to security and human dignity,” he said.
Orban’s comments come as Hungary builds a fence on the Serbian border to keep migrants out and has adopted tough new laws that will make it a crime to cross the border illegally from next week.
“From September 15, the rules are changing in Hungary, if you cross the border illegally, you will be immediately arrested by the authorities,” Orban warned Friday.
Further concerns about Hungary were raised Friday by video footage showing migrants inside a holding camp being fed — in the words of one volunteer — “like animals in a pen”.
Orban insisted Friday that his country was just trying to apply European rules in seeking to register the new arrivals, pinning the blame on fellow EU member Greece for waving migrants through for onward travel north.
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