New refugee proposals as photos of drowned Syrian boy shock world
BRUSSELS, Belgium—European leaders, shocked by the horrifying image of a drowned Syrian child, rushed out new proposals Thursday to address the escalating migrant crisis despite deep divisions in the 28-member bloc.
The heartbreaking images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead in the surf after the boat taking his family to Greece sank brought home the horror of the refugee crisis—the worst of its kind since World War II.
With tensions growing in Europe over how to handle the situation, France and Germany said they had agreed that the EU should now impose binding quotas on the numbers that member states should take in, having failed to reach such a deal in June.
“We agree that… we need binding quotas within the European Union to share the burden. That is the principle of solidarity,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters during a visit in the Swiss capital.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will next week unveil a plan for the relocation of at least 120,000 more refugees to ease the burden on frontline EU nations Greece, Italy and Hungary, a European source told AFP.
EU president Donald Tusk also called on member states to share the resettlement of at least 100,000 refugees—far above the current agreement for 32,000.
In Britain, the Guardian newspaper reported that Prime Minister David Cameron was preparing to respond to growing pressure to accept a bigger share of refugees, by accepting thousands directly from UN camps on the border with Syria.
“Final details of the numbers, funding and planned location are being urgently thrashed out in Whitehall,” the Guardian cited government sources as saying.
Cameron earlier promised the country would fulfil its “moral responsibilities,” after having only accepted 216 Syrian refugees over the past year. He said the numbers allowed would be kept “under review.”
Friday meeting as pressure grows
EU foreign ministers are set to meet in Luxembourg on Friday to discuss the escalating crisis, after pressure for action was heightened by the images of the drowned child.
Kurdi was seen in photos in a red T-shirt, blue shorts and shoes and lying motionless on the seashore before a rescue worker picks up his limp body.
“I was holding my wife’s hand. But my children slipped through my hands. We tried to cling to the small boat, but it was deflating. It was dark and everyone was screaming,” his grieving father Abdullah Kurdi told Turkey’s Dogan news agency of the sinking.
Reports said the child—one of at least 12 Syrians who died when their boats sank trying to reach Greece—and his family were trying to get to Canada from the Syrian flashpoint of Kobane after fleeing to Turkey last year to escape Islamic State extremists.
Canada denied it had received an asylum request from the boy’s family.
The bleak image spread like lightning through social media and dominated front pages.
“Tiny victim of a human catastrophe,” said Britain’s Daily Mail while Italy’s La Repubblica tweeted the words: “One photo to silence the world.”
The picture also prompted a furious reaction from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“European countries, which turned the Mediterranean Sea—the cradle of ancient civilizations—into a migrant cemetery are party to the crime that takes place when each refugee loses their life,” he said in a speech.
Turkey is hosting 1.8 million refugees from the conflict in neighboring Syria.
Ugly scenes in Hungary
In Hungary meanwhile, ugly scenes also underscored the desperation of migrants.
Hundreds had rushed into Budapest’s reopened international railway station to catch a train only to be left feeling tricked as police halted it on the way to the Austrian border.
A large number refused orders to get off after the train was halted at Biscke near one of Hungary’s four main refugee camps, with some protesting, shouting “Germany! Germany!” and holding placards saying “Help” and “SOS
“The problem is not a European problem, the problem is a German problem,” right-wing Hungarian premier Orban, whose country has seen some 50,000 enter the country in August alone, said after talks in Brussels.
Orban said Merkel had insisted that no refugees could leave Hungary without being registered there first, in line with “clear-cut” EU rules that asylum seekers’ claims must be dealt with by their initial country of entry.
Berlin said last month it would not deport people who broke that rule but Budapest says that this has encouraged migrants to come through its country.
On a visit to Greece, which has seen the largest number of migrant arrivals in the EU, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said Europe was facing an “unprecedented humanitarian and political crisis.”
Europe is facing a huge influx on all sides, with more than 350,000 people crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats this year alone, the International Organization for Migration says.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc’s new naval mission could step up action against people smugglers in the Mediterranean within weeks, seizing and destroying smugglers’ boats.
In the Czech Republic, police were criticized for marking the hands of refugees with numbers after detaining them on a train, in a grim echo of Nazi Germany’s practice of marking the arms of concentration camp prisoners.
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