Saturday, September 5, 2015

Germany still taking in migrants and immigrants

Germany Welcomes Migrants After Long Journey

The New York Times

MUNICH — Germans waving welcome signs in German, English and Arabic came to the train station here on Saturday to greet the first group of about 8,000 migrants, after an arduous and emotional journey through Hungary and Austria.
Germans applauded and volunteers offered hot tea, food and toys as some 450 migrants arrived on a special train service from Austria, finally reaching Germany, which had held out an open hand to them and became their promised land.
“Thank you, Germany,” said one mother of two children. A German volunteer, Silvia Reinschmiedt, who runs a local school, could not stay at home. “I said to myself, I have to do something,” she said as she handed out warm drinks to migrants. Ms. Reinschmiedt said she had been profoundly moved by the scene.
“They rarely volunteer their stories but their eyes speak volumes,” she said.
By Saturday evening, some 6,000 migrants had already arrived here, and another 1,800 were expected to arrive in trains overnight, according to the German police, while the Austrian government said that 6,500 people had entered the country Saturday from Hungary, most of them traveling onward to Germany.
It was the desired destination for an extraordinary march of migrants, who broke through Hungarian obstacles and reached Austria on Saturday morning after a night of frantic negotiations among German, Austrian and Hungarian officials cleared the way.
Overnight, some 4,500 exhausted migrants were bused to the Austrian border by a Hungarian government that gave up trying to stop them and instead decided to help them travel in safety. That help was temporary, however, as Hungary found itself struggling to cope with a new influx of migrants. The arrival in Germany of the migrants was the culmination of 10 days of tragedy and emotion that at last caught the world’s attention, after war and chaos in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East set off one of the largest emigrations since World War II.
The standoff in Hungary seemed to encapsulate the long and often deadly journeys hundreds of thousands of people have made to try to reach some semblance of peace, security and prosperity in a Europe that, for the most part, did not much want them.
Even as the thousands broke through to Austria on buses provided by the Hungarian government, on Saturday morning a new group of some 1,000 migrants set off on foot from the Budapest train station, Keleti, on their own march to the border. At the same time, at least 2,000 more migrants were caught trying to enter Hungary on Friday alone, and Janos Lazar, chief of staff to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said that Hungary would work to complete its border fence to stop further illegal entry.
Zoltan Kovacs, a government spokesman, told the state news agency that Budapest was not planning to send any more buses to Austria. The Hungarian authorities, worried that easing the migrants’ journey would just encourage more to pass through, said Saturday that they would stick to their understanding of European regulations and try to stop and register new migrants, again leaving thousands stranded.
The drama highlighted some serious policy questions for European foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Saturday. How many migrants would be welcome and for how long? How much has Germany’s “open door” encouraged more migrants to embark on the often-treacherous journey and risk their lives, rather than remain in refugee camps in the region or in their home countries?
The meeting of the foreign ministers produced little agreement in talks that the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called “difficult.” Europe’s migrant crisis is “here to stay,” she said, and nations must act together. “In three months’ time, it will be other member states under the focus, and in six months, it could be again others,” she said.
The European Union, which operates by consensus among its 28 member states, is debating what to do, but considerable resistance remains among central European states like Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, as well as from Britain, to accepting mandatory quotas of migrants, as France and Germany have proposed.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has been praised for her moral leadership for saying that all Syrian migrants would be allowed to come to Germany and apply for asylum. But some have argued, like Mr. Orban and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, that simply opening the European door will cause many more thousands of migrants and asylum seekers to abandon refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and embark on the hazardous and expensive journey to Europe, promoting more people smuggling, and not less.
According to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, only 49 percent of the 320,000 or so migrants who have reached Europe this year are from Syria and only 3 percent from Iraq. Some 12 percent are from Afghanistan and 8 percent from Eritrea.
In 2014, only about 45 percent of asylum applications made to European governments had a positive outcome — at least half were turned away for not being legal refugees but illegal migrants.
The European Union bureaucracy is trying to come up with a plan to set up reception centers for migrants in Greece and Italy, where they can be cared for and screened. The officials are also drawing up a plan to distribute up to 160,000 migrants and asylum seekers. But the countries must agree.
European interior ministers will meet on Sept. 14 to discuss the proposals and a summit meeting of bloc leaders is likely to follow — unless one is called sooner under the pressure of events.
“This has to be an eye-opener on how messed up the situation in Europe is now,” said the Austrian foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz. “I hope that this serves as a wake-up call that this cannot continue.”
The Austrian interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, appealed to the rest of Europe to help shoulder the burden of the mass influx and vowed that Austria would not use force against any migrant, all of whom would be welcome to apply for asylum there. But only 10 have done so thus far, she said. “The others want to continue, primarily to Germany,” she said.
All day Friday, desperate migrants were pleading with Hungarian officials to allow them to travel by train to Austria, so they could continue their journey to Germany. But train service was suspended, and the only transportation being provided to the migrants was to reception camps, where they would then be registered and required to seek asylum. Under European rules, they would then have to apply for asylum in Hungary, not the country of their choice.
Late Friday night, the Hungarian attitude appeared to have changed. The Hungarians provided dozens of buses from the Keleti station, where thousands were waiting for rail service to resume, and stopped to pick up at least 1,000 others who had decided to walk along the main highway to Austria and then, if necessary, to Germany. Altogether, they provided 104 busses for some 4,500 people.
The scenes at the Austrian border at Nickelsdorf were chaotic, with the Hungarians making the migrants walk the final distance to the border, about 500 yards, in the rain.
Wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags, lines of soaked, weary migrants, many carrying small, sleeping children, climbed off buses on the Hungarian side of the border and walked into Austria, receiving fruit and water from aid workers. There were portable toilets and some Austrians held signs that read, “Refugees welcome.”
“We’re happy. We’ll go to Germany,” said a Syrian man who gave his name as Mohammed.
By about 10 a.m., five trains with 400 migrants each had already left the border for Vienna and Salzburg.
After late-night negotiations between Austria and Germany, these migrants were to be offered the choice of remaining in Austria to file for asylum or to go to Germany to do the same.
German officials were expecting as many as 10,000 to arrive in Munich on Saturday. Busses have been prepared to ferry migrants to reception centers throughout Bavaria and to others of Germany’s 16 states to ensure that people are cared for properly, said Simone Hilgers, a spokeswoman for the local government.
Georg Streiter, a deputy spokesman for Ms. Merkel, said that Germany and Austria had decided late on Friday to allow migrants stranded in Budapest to enter their countries and apply for asylum there.
“It was an impossible situation,” Mr. Streiter said. “It had to be resolved.”
The officials were concerned that without any official agreement there could be violence at the Austro-Hungarian border when the migrants reached it.
But a German official emphasized that this was a one-time response and that there was no permanent solution to the migrant wave. Neither Austria nor Germany were open for all refugees seeking a way out, the official said.
At Keleti, the situation remained fluid throughout the day.
Once the buses pulled out, a migrant encampment that had formed outside the station had shrunk to a quarter the size it had been before, but people were still arriving from the Serbian border and other places in Hungary.
About 1,000 migrants, some with roller suitcases, others toting plastic bags, wandered around the train station and an underground concourse. The oppressive smell of sewage had disappeared but so had the portable toilets, an effort by the authorities, volunteers said, to stop people from staying here.
There were only a handful of transit police in evidence and no riot police. There were no international trains and the ticket office refused to sell tickets to migrants. But they could use ticket machines and more than a hundred boarded a 2:10 p.m. train for Gyor, hoping to make a connection there to the Austrian border.
Hassan Daas, 21, a Syrian medical student, said his family was happy to get another chance to leave after a missed opportunity Friday night.
“We didn’t leave because we missed the bus,” he said. “We had a room in Budapest,” because a Hungarian woman had taken them in for the night. The Daas family got on a 2:30 p.m. train hoping to eventually reach Hegyeshalom, a village on the Austrian border, and keep traveling from there.
But as in the days before, the policies seemed to shift all day. Nobeem Sajid, 17, said he and five cousins had been held in a refugee camp in Debrecen, in eastern Hungary, but officials there told them Friday that they could leave if they wished, he said.
So the young men, all students from Pakistan, took a train to Keleti on Saturday and were now not sure what to do next.
“We cannot find the buses and they will not sell us train tickets,” Mr. Sajid said. “But we do not want to stay here. We want to go to Germany with the others. Why can’t we go, too? Why did they let us out of the camp if we cannot go?”