Politics

Europe's Mixed Reaction to the Migrant Crisis

As Germany announced new figures this week revealing that the country is expecting to receive a record number of asylum seekers this year, the official reactions from other countries to the growing migrant crisis on Europe's borders have been less welcoming, with several announcing new security measures to deter migrants from crossing their borders.

"We've got to reckon there will be 800,000 people coming to Germany as refugees or seeking asylum," the German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière, said on Wednesday at a news conference in Berlin. Three months ago, he raised the original 300,000 forecast to 450,000.

"It will be the largest influx in the country's post-war history," he said, adding: "This year we have to cope, and we will."

In July, 107,500 migrants entered the European Union according to border agency Frontex, and member states have been struggling with thousands of people arriving at their borders. Macedonia, a tiny landlocked nation that borders Greece, announced yesterday that a state of emergency had been declared in two border regions due to the chaotic scenes reported at places like Gevgelija station, where migrants have been boarding trains heading north. Local police have used tear gas to drive back crowds as around 1,500-2,000 people a day cross the border from Greece. In the past two months, 44,000 migrants have made their way through the country, according to the nation's interior ministry, heading for northern European countries like Germany or Sweden.

The migrants leaving Macedonia tend to cross into neighboring Serbia before making their way north to Hungary. At that point many migrants encounter increasingly restrictive measures put in place by the Hungarian government. A government spokesperson said on Tuesday that it will send thousands of police officers to its southern border with Serbia to stop "increasingly aggressive" migrants from attempting to enter the country. Hungary prompted outrage from the Serbian government and the Council of Europe after announcing it would build a 3.5 meter (11.5 ft) fence along its 175 km (109 mile) border with Serbia to keep migrants out. The government is also proposing to toughen its penal code to make illegal border crossings punishable with a four-year jail sentence.

Slovakia too has toughened its stance, with the government saying it will refuse to accept Muslim asylum seekers due to an absence of mosques in the country and fears that Muslims would not be able to integrate into society. An interior ministry spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal: "In Slovakia, we don't have mosques," adding: "We only want to choose the Christians."

Elsewhere, the British government announced on Thursday that British and French police will work with border authorities at a newly announced "command and control center" in the French port town of Calais, in a bid to target people-smuggling gangs and prevent migrants from attempting the journey across the English Channel via the Channel Tunnel. Opposition politicians and charities accused British Prime Minister David Cameron of using "dehumanising language" after he described those camped in squalid conditions at the French port town of Calais as "a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain" when speaking to ITV news in July.

Yet despite the tough words and policies from some European countries, there have also been many stories of people willing to welcome the new arrivals, like Hungarian volunteer Baba Mujhse, the so-called "gentle giant" who waits at Budapest's Keleti train station most days, helping children off trains, answering their weary enquiries and handing out food. "They gave me patience, faith and a lot of love," he told an Associated Press reporter, "while I can give them hope."

And while stories of kindness like that of the German bus driver who left newly arrived asylum seekers in tears after telling them they were welcome in Germany have gained considerable media attention, politicians have begun to warn that if other European countries do not do more to share the burden of Europe's new arrivals, Germany might be forced to reinstate border controls, which were abolished when Germany implemented the Schengen Agreement in 1995. Charities and organisations working to support asylum seekers fear a rise in xenophobic violence, of which there has already been a sharp rise in Germany since 2013, according to a German intelligence report published in June. As the head of one German organisation that campaigns for the rights of refugees told Newsweek earlier this month: "There is the fear that this sort of response from other countries in Europe will lead more conservative Germans to ask, why should we be responsible?"

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