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Divisions in EU worsen refugee crisis

11 September 2015


Comforted: young refugees arrive at Munich station on Monday

Comforted: young refugees arrive at Munich station on Monday

REPORTS last week that Czech police had been numbering refugees with permanent-marker pens prompted reporters to evoke the Holocaust, as Europe’s failure to implement a co-ordinated response to the crisis produced scenes of chaos.

Thousands of refugees are now attempting to cross Europe, and their journeys are exposing deep divisions across the Continent, where there is, as yet, no agreement about their reception and resettlement.

Hungary has constructed a fence topped with razor wire across its border with Serbia, and its President, Viktor Orbán, has said that “we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country”. New arrivals in Germany and Austria, on the other hand, have been greeted with banners, food, and applause.

The compassion of ordinary Hungarians has been “under-reported”, the Chaplain of St Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, the Revd Dr Frank Hegedűs, said this week.

On Saturday, several members of his congregation delivered aid to refugees camped at Keleti International train station, where there were “nearly as many local volunteers as refugees”. One member, Arthur Reynolds, donated 400 kilos of apples from his orchard.

In Serbia, the public response has been “highly positive”, Marija Vranesevic, programme manager for Philanthropy, the charitable foundation of the Serbian Orthodox Church, said on Tuesday. The foundation is providing aid, including food, firewood, clothes, and baby kits, to a third of the 3000 people entering Serbia every day.

“Refugees are not a new thing for the Serbian people,” she said. “Medical practices in Belgrade are offering services free of charge and the media is very positive. . . We have not had one single incident of aggression. The police are very peaceful, and refugees say this is by far the best treatment they have had on their route.”

Most refugees stay in Serbia for a maximum of three days before travelling on, in hope of reaching Sweden, Norway, or Germany. Ms Vranesevic said that she has seen a “huge increase” in mothers and children as young as two months old, and sensed that they were trying to “go as fast as possible”. She expects the journeys to be slowed down as Hungary’s barrier is completed, and temperatures plummet to minus 20 degrees.

The refugees desperately need shoes, she said: “Most of them walk from the Middle East to here, so their shoes are completely destroyed.” Most of the refugees come from Syria. Many are professionals — doctors, laywers, and engineers — and carry with them photographs of their home towns.

“You can see from the look in their eyes that they are so aware, deeply aware, of the misery that they are in,” she said. “These are people that had a life like any other average European family, and there is nothing there any more. Their homes and buildings are piles of sand.”

Europe’s Home Affairs ministers are due to meet on Monday to discuss a response to the crisis. The European Commission proposes distributing 120,000 of the refugees in Europe over the next two years, but the UNHCR has said that Europe must prepare to take as many as 200,000 more refugees.

More than 350,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe so far this year, and more than 2643 people died during the crossing.

“Europe cannot go on responding to this crisis with a piecemeal approach,” the head of the agency, António Guterres, said on Monday. “No country can do it alone, and no country can refuse to do its part.”

His six “fundamental principles” include establishing “immediate and adequate emergency reception, assistance, and registration capacity” in Greece, Hungary, and Italy, followed by a “mass relocation programme, with the mandatory participation of all EU member states”

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