Europe lacks concerted response to refugee crisis

Lorne Cook
Associated Press

Brussels — The tens of thousands of refugees rushing razor-wire borders or cramming into Germany-bound buses and trains have laid bare weaknesses in the European Union’s migration policy and exposed a deep East-West rift tearing at EU unity.

On Tuesday, Hungarian authorities began busing weary migrants and refugees to a nearby registration center, defusing some tensions at Hungary’s southern border with Serbia. But the human tide hardly ebbed, with a steady stream of people seen trying to approach Hungary, their gateway into the European Union.

Despite the scale of the refugee emergency, many eastern European and Baltic nations — former Soviet satellites with less multicultural experience and economic prowess than their fellow Western European countries — viscerally oppose being told to host migrants and refugees on their soil.

Their position is in stark contrast with that of Germany and Austria, which have opened their borders to thousands of migrants in recent days.

On Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will step up his efforts to get a faster response from the bloc’s 28 member nations, unveiling a plan to distribute more than 120,000 people fleeing conflict zones like Syria.

That is unlikely to get cooperation from countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. In a joint statement last week, the four said they would not accept any mandatory or permanent quotas to take in migrants.

They have already rejected a previous EU attempt to share 40,000 refugees, only a fraction of what Juncker is seeking now.

“We are willing to be part of the solution,” said Slovakia’s foreign minister, Miroslav Lajcak on Saturday. “But not as an arbitrary decision by some bureaucrat,” he said, referring to policy makers at Juncker’s Commission.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration said it is “actively considering” ways to be more responsive to the global migrant crisis, including refugee resettlement.

Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the United States is in contact with countries in the Middle East and Europe grappling with the influx of more than 340,000 people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Some in Europe dread the integration of newly arrived Muslims into their mostly Catholic society. “We have no mosques or structures for them. This could lead to more radicalization,” one government official said, on condition he isn’t named while talks on the refugee plan continue.

The EU estimates that 2 out of every 3 migrants arrive from conflict areas and could qualify for asylum or some form of protection. That carries important legal obligations because of international laws obliging countries to protect refugees.