Sun, Sep 13, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Thousands rally as Hungary calls for more support

AFP, BERLIN

Migrant and refugee families wait to be allowed to board trains at Budapest Keleti railway station in the Hungarian capital yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Tens of thousands of people were due to rally in European capitals yesterday in support of refugees as Hungary’s populist prime minister called for a giant aid package for countries around war-ravaged Syria to stem mass migration to Europe.

The Europe-wide “day of action” includes dozens of events across several nations with the biggest demonstration expected in London. There are also rival anti-refugee events due to take place, notably in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia.

The biggest mass migration since World War II has divided Europe, with Germany pushing for compulsory quotas within the EU, but eastern European nations snubbing the proposal.

Pressing his Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovakian counterparts at a meeting in Prague, Germany’s minister of foreign affairs on Friday warned the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees 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,” German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, calling for “European solidarity.”

The International Organization for Migration said more than 430,000 migrants and refugees had crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, 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. However, Steinmeier’s appeal for EU members to accept proposals to share about 160,000 refugees fell on deaf ears among eastern nations.

Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs Miroslav Lajcak said he wanted a solution “that is not imposed,” but “made jointly.”

“Migrants don’t want to stay in Slovakia,” he added.

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, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he wanted 3 billion euros (US$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 the border countries], where they were safe.”

“They are not fleeing danger — they have already fled and should not fear for their lives,” he added.

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.”

Orban’s comments come as Hungary builds a fence on the Serbian border to keep refugees out and has adopted tough new laws that are to make it a crime to cross the border illegally from next week.

“From Sept. 15, the rules are changing in Hungary. If you cross the border illegally, you will be immediately arrested by the authorities,” Orban said on Friday.

Orban on Friday insisted that his country was just trying to apply European rules in seeking to register the new arrivals, pinning the blame on fellow EU member nation Greece for waving migrants through for onward travel north.

EU lawmakers have called for an international conference on migration, together with the US, the UN and Arab countries.

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