NEWS

Hungary clashes with Germany over responsibility for refugees

hungary-clashes-with-germany-over-responsibility-for-refugees

Hungary and Germany clashed over the handling of Europe’s biggest flood of refugees since World War II as the two pursue diverging paths to tackle the crisis.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday in Brussels called the matter a “German” problem and said his country was only required to register refugees. That prompted a top lawmaker in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition to respond that Orban was wrong and that Hungary’s obligations go further.

European Union rules also require asylum seekers to remain in the country they first enter, Volker Kauder, Merkel’s parliamentary caucus leader, told reporters in Berlin. If Hungary flouts these rules, “we have to have a serious discussion about the state of the European Union,” he said.

Germany and Hungary’s bickering highlights the differing views emerging in Europe over how to approach the crisis. As refugees piled onto trains at Budapest’s main train station, Hungary’s parliament prepared tougher laws to crack down on migrants. In Germany, Merkel has taken charge of the country’s response, calling it a national task to provide for refugees.

While Kauder on Thursday said a minimum of 800,000 people will seek asylum in Germany this year, the number may hit 1 million or more given the unpredictable nature of the flow, according to a government official who asked not to be named discussing private meetings.

Merkel is delving into the minute details, such as the quest for temporary housing and the need for quick-fix waivers of building codes and public-procurement rules, the official said. That includes a global search for converted shipping containers that can serve as temporary homes because the supply in Europe is scarce, according to the official.

Suspending rules

“I’ve had all of this explained to me,” Merkel said at a town-hall event on Aug. 25. “How do you quickly find shelters? German planning laws aren’t the fastest. We have to suspend some rules so everyone has a warm place to stay in the winter.”

Germany’s government plans to present a package of measures, including higher spending on aid to refugees, on Sept. 24. This year’s balanced budget isn’t threatened “at this time,” Merkel said on Monday.

Last year, spending by German municipalities on food, shelter and health care for asylum seekers rose to 2.4 billion euros ($2.7 billion) from 1.5 billion euros in 2013, the fifth straight annual increase, the Federal Statistics Office said Thursday. Federal subsidies cover part of the cost.

Razor-wire fence

In Hungary, Orban has responded by building a razor-wire fence along the country’s frontier with Serbia, beefing up the number of police and soldiers along the border and pushing through a law making it easier to immediately deport anyone entering from countries deemed as “safe,” including Serbia and Turkey.

The Hungarian parliament is holding a two-day emergency session to discuss further legislation, with proposed measures including a three-year prison sentence for bypassing a security fence built on the country’s border with Serbia. Thousands rallied in Budapest on Wednesday evening to protest the government’s treatment of migrants.

Migrants jammed into the Keleti station, believing they could travel to Germany, even as the loudspeaker informed them westbound connections were halted. They were instead loaded onto trains heading to other parts of Hungary.

Police officers halted one train in Bicske, a town 30 kilometers (19 miles) outside Budapest, ordering passengers without valid documentation to change to buses heading for a nearby refugee center, the MTI state news service reported. Some refused to get on the buses, staying in an underpass and chanting “No camp,” according to MTI.

Equal distribution

“If the German chancellor insists that nobody can leave Hungary to Germany without registration, then we will register them,” said Orban, who was in Brussels for meetings with EU leaders on the crisis. “All of them would like to go to Germany. Our job is only to register them.”

EU President Donald Tusk said Thursday during a press conference with Orban that proposals coming next week must address the EU-wide distribution of at least 100,000 refugees pouring into Hungary, Italy and Greece. The plans will likely require countries that refuse to take in refugees to provide financing for those that do, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported, without saying where it got the information.

[Bloomberg]