Refugee crisis: Austria to reintroduce border checks, return to 'normality'

Austria said Sunday it's planning to phase out emergency measures that have allowed thousands of refugees stranded in Hungary to stream into Austria and Germany since Saturday morning.

Emergency measures waived random border checks and other rules for thousands

Refugees flood into Germany, Austria

8 years ago
Duration 2:02
Germany is expected to take in 800,000 refugees this year, fleeing from war-torn Syria and other countries in the region

Austria said on Sunday it planned to phase out emergency measures that have allowed thousands of refugees stranded in Hungary to stream into Austria and Germany since Saturday morning.

Austria had suspended its random border checks after photographs of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach showed Europeans the horror faced by those desperate enough to travel illegally into the heart of Europe, which is deeply divided over how to cope.

After 71 people suffocated in the back of a truck abandoned on an Austrian highway en route from Hungary, and as thousands headed from Budapest towards Austria on foot, Vienna had agreed with Germany to waive rules requiring refugees to register an asylum claim in the first EU country they reach.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said that decision was being revised following "intensive talks" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a telephone call with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. 

"We have always said this is an emergency situation in which we must act quickly and humanely. We have helped more than 12,000 people in an acute situation," Faymann said.

"Now we have to move step-by-step away from emergency measures towards normality, in conformity with the law and dignity."

The risks of staying in war-ravaged Syria

8 years ago
Duration 2:40
Syrians risking their lives to flee violence that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced

At the station in Munich, state capital of Bavaria, a few dozen well-wishers turned up to cheer the new arrivals. Refugees who stopped to speak told of weeks of arduous travel by land and sea. Some seemed intimidated by the welcoming applause.

'It's getting tight'

The president of the Upper Bavarian government, Christoph Hillenbrand, said he expected 13,000 migrants to reach the city on Sunday, up from a previous estimate of 11,000, following 6,800 arrivals on Saturday. Hillenbrand added that 11,000 could arrive on Monday and said Munich was running out of capacity.

Authorities there were using a former used car showroom and a railway logistics centre as makeshift camps, and were adding a further 1,000 beds to 2,300 already set up at the city's international trade fair ground. About 4,000 people were sent to other German states.

"It's getting tight," Hillenbrand told reporters at the train station.

At the Austrian border, onlookers clapped and chanted: "Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here," as volunteers loaded their vehicles with food, water and soft toys.

CBC's Nahlah Ayed arrived in Austria on Sunday, and will report on the latest related to the refugee crisis.

The EU is deeply divided over how to cope with the influx of people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, making the 28-nation bloc look ineffective and heartless as member states blame each other, fuelling political populism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Germany has said it expects 800,000 refugees and migrants this year and urged other EU members to open their doors. But others say the focus should be on tackling the violence in the Middle East that has caused them to flee their homes.

"When rich Europe argues and tears itself apart over whether to accept 1,000, 10,000, 42,000 or 100,000 refugees, when Turkey already has two million, it is clear that we have a problem of perspective and identity," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"This crisis can help us come out with a stronger vision of what it means to be the European Union."

Austria and Germany have thrown open their borders to the wave of refugees making their way north and west from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. Hungary has been letting the human tide move on after holding it up for days.

Merkel's decision to allow the influx caused a rift in her conservative bloc on Sunday, with her Bavarian allies accusing her of having pushed forward without asking the federal states dealing with the crowds.

Hungary's Orban accusing Berlin of encouraging the influx.

"As long as Austria and Germany don't say clearly that they won't take in any more migrants, several million new immigrants will come to Europe," he told Austrian broadcaster ORF.

The numbers in Europe are small compared to several million refugees in Syria's neighbours Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, and Pope Francis called on Sunday for every European parish and religious community to take in one migrant family each.

Germany wants 'slaves,' says French far-right leader 

But a poll in French newspaper Aujourd 'hui en France showed 55 per cent of French people opposed to softening rules on granting refugee status.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen accused Germany on Sunday of looking to lower wages and hire "slaves" by opening its doors to thousands of migrants and refugees.

"Germany probably thinks its population is moribund, and it is probably seeking to lower wages and continue to recruit slaves through mass immigration," Marine Le Pen told supporters at a meeting in the southeastern city of Marseille, a key French destination for migrants from north Africa.

A child walks after arriving by train to the main railway station in Munich, Germany, on Sunday. (Michael Dalder/Reuters)

Hungary, the main entry point into Europe's borderless Schengen zone for migrants, has taken a hard line, vowing to 
seal its southern frontier with a new, high fence by Sept. 15.

Hungarian officials have portrayed the crisis as a defence of Europe's prosperity, identity and "Christian values" against an influx of mainly Muslim migrants.

"While Europe rejoiced in happy images from Austria and Germany yesterday, refugees crossing into Hungary right now see a very different picture: riot police and a cold hard ground to sleep on," Amnesty International researcher Barbora Cernusakova said in a statement.

German Interior Ministry spokesman Harald Neymanns said Berlin's decision to open its borders to Syrians was an 
exceptional case for humanitarian reasons. He said Europe's so-called Dublin rules, which require people to apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter, had not been suspended.

The flow of people risking the dangerous journey on flimsy boats across the Mediterranean shows no sign of abating, as they flee a four-year-old civil war in Syria that has killed about 250,000 civilians, and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Africa.

More than 2,000 have died at sea so far this year. The Cypriot coast guard picked up 114 Syrian refugees from a fishing boat on Sunday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to hold a vote in Parliament in early October to allow airstrikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria, London's Sunday Times said, and Le Monde reported France was also considering airstrikes, joining a U.S.-led coalition.

The Australian government is due to make a decision within a week on whether to join the coalition.   

Critics push U.S. to help 

The United States came under more pressure on Sunday to help Europe find sanctuary for a flood of immigrants displaced by war and chaos, but Washington showed no signs of planning a dramatic increase in its intake of refugees.

David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee and a former British foreign secretary, called on the United States to bring out "the kind of leadership America has shown on these kind of issues" in the past.

Is the U.S. doing enough to help Syrian refugees?

8 years ago
Duration 3:50
The U.S. has contributed more money to UN refugee agencies than any other country, but it has taken very few refugees from Syria

"The United States has always been a leader in refugee resettlement but 1,500 people over four years is such a miniscule contribution to tackling the human side of this problem," Miliband said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

State Department spokesman John Kirby, in an interview with Reuters late on Saturday, offered no indication the United States would be greatly boosting the number of immigrants it would allow into the country. He cited the $4 billion U.S. contribution to refugee relief and reconfirmed the Obama administration's position about security concerns.

"There is a significant vetting process here for folks from Syria that we have to follow," he said, adding that the Obama administration had been in contact with European allies and was exploring options.

Israel too vulnerable

In Canada, which is in the middle of a federal election campaign, the Conservatives have said the country would resettle 10,000 more Syrian refugees over the next three years in response to the UN's request to increase admission numbers. 

The New Democratic Party and Liberals, meanwhile, say that if elected in the Oct. 19 vote, they would aim for the resettlement of thousands more by Jan. 1. 

Israel's prime minister, however, says while his country is not indifferent to the plight of migrants and refugees flooding Europe, Israel is too vulnerable to absorb them.

Thousands of refugees arrive in Germany and Austria

8 years ago
Duration 2:39
Austria and Germany welcome exhausted refugees who were bused to the Hungarian border

With files from CBC, The Associated Press