Accept refugee quotas or build walls? Europe's divisions deepen

European nations are responding differently to the refugee situation with some taking in more migrants and others cracking down on security measures. 

Dimitris Michalakis/Reuters
A Syrian refugee woman holds a baby as another boy cries moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 11, 2015. Strains are growing in Europe as countries divide over whether or not to impose a migrant intake quota.

The migrant crisis continues to ignite tensions in Europe, as the European Union (EU) struggles to provide for the thousands of displaced Syrians.

Over 350,000 refugees have already crossed the Mediterranean Sea this year, the International Organization for Migration says, and the numbers don’t appear to be slowing.

Dispute and discontent among European nations has left the United Nations pleading for the creation of large-scale reception centers and the EU requesting member states to accept a mandatory quota for taking new refugees in an attempt to spread the burden.

Both Britain and Denmark refused to participate in the quota system, opting out of EU justice and home affairs rules. However, British Prime Minister David Cameron made headlines last week when he had a change of heart and agreed to take in 20,000 migrants over the next five years.

Several central European nations are also against the quota. "We're convinced that as countries we should keep control over the number of those we are able to accept and then offer them support," Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said at a press conference with his Hungarian, Polish, and Slovak counterparts.

Many other countries, while not rejecting the EU’s quota proposal, are taking measures to ensure “security.”

Nearly 13,000 people have crossed the Austria-Hungary border in the last two days, cites Reuters. The rail link between the two countries remains closed, while Austria has opted to partially close a main highway connecting Vienna and Hungary on Friday and Hungary continues construction of border security walls.

In the latest, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (who earlier had likened the crisis to “a battle to preserve Europe’s prosperity and Christian identity,” according to Reuters) accused the mostly Muslim migrants of not cooperating with the Hungarian system.

"They seized railway stations, rejected giving fingerprints, failed to cooperate and are unwilling to go to places where they would get food, water, accommodation and medical care ... They rebelled against Hungarian legal order," Orban told reporters.

Orban further revealed that beginning next week, “Hungarian authorities will not forgive illegal border crossings.”

Germany remains open to accepting asylum seekers, pushing estimates to 800,000 for the year, 40,000 of whom are expected to arrive this weekend. But here, too, security measures are being taken as the German defense ministry prepared 4,000 troops to “help with the influx.”  

Orban and other East European leaders have criticized Germany for its openness to migrants, stating that “such generosity will only encourage many more to come,” reported Reuters. And even within Germany, leaders are accusing German chancellor Angela Merkel of “losing control” of the refugee situation.  

At the same time, advocates for the migrants are urging compassion for people who they say are feeling forced to take desperate measures.

“While, there is no guarantee that conditions for these migrants and refugees will get any better in the short-term, it is paramount that countries around the world participate in a collective effort to make sure there is not a mounting number of capsized boats and abandoned trucks across Europe and its surrounding shores,” Shilpa Nadhan, program support associate at the International Organization for Migration, said on Friday. “For the hundreds of thousands that have made it to Europe and the thousands that will continue to try, this dangerous journey is their only option.”

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