By John Pullman and Marton Dunai
September 2, 2015
CALAIS, France/BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants poured onto the high-speed railway linking Paris with London near the French port of Calais, stranding passengers in darkness aboard Eurostar trains.
Thousands of miles away, the bodies of other migrants washed up on a Turkish beach. Photos of a drowned toddler face down in the surf spread quickly across the Internet, yet another searing image from Europe’s worst migration crisis since the 1990s Balkan wars.
Outside a Budapest train station, an angry crowd camped out demanding to board trains for Germany, as Europe’s asylum system crumbled under the strain of the influx.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing wars, as well as economic migrants escaping poverty, have arrived in the European Union, confounding EU leaders and feeding the rise of right wing populists.
Thousands have drowned in the Mediterranean and many others have died travelling over land, including 71 people found in the back of an abandoned truck in Austria last week.
The EU’s executive European Commission promised to unveil a new policy next week to make it easier to process asylum claims, send those from safe countries home and distribute bona fide refugees among the bloc’s 28 members.
Meanwhile, authorities have struggled to enforce rules which ordinarily allow free movement within most of the EU but restrict travel by undocumented migrants.
Hundreds took to the tracks around France’s Calais-Frethun station, the latest target for those trying to reach Britain, which many regard as a better place to live than countries on the continent.
Rail operator SNCF was forced to halt services near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. Three Eurostar trains were blocked overnight and eventually continued to London early on Wednesday, while two returned to their departure stations.
Passengers on one London-bound train, which stopped less than a mile (1.6 km) from the tunnel, were told at one point to keep quiet and listen for people on the roof. A helicopter with a searchlight circled as guards walked the tracks.
With the power out, passengers sat in stifling darkness for nearly four hours. A woman in business class wept.
Eurostar later pulled the train back to Calais, where passengers disembarked for fresh air and bottled water.
About 3,000 to 4,000 migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa camp near Calais, dodging police as they try to board trains and trucks heading to Britain through the tunnel or on ferries. They have disrupted passenger and freight transport between Britain and France throughout the summer.
A spokeswoman for Eurotunnel, which operates the railway tunnel beneath the channel, said that as security has been tightened at Calais port and the tunnel entrance, migrants have targeted Calais-Frethun, about 5 km (three miles) inland, beyond a zone controlled by Eurotunnel.
In Hungary, hundreds of migrants protested for a second day in front of Budapest’s Keleti Railway Terminus, after they were blocked by police from boarding trains bound for Germany. The police said they must go to camps set up in Hungary instead.
Germany, which is prepared to take by far the greatest number of refugees, has begun accepting asylum claims from Syrians regardless of where they entered the EU, even though undocumented migrants are barred from travel across the bloc. That has caused confusion for neighbouring countries, which have alternated between letting migrants through and halting them.
Italy announced new measures to add checks at its northern border in response to a German request.
Hungary is the main arrival point for those crossing the Balkans by land. A government spokesman said the country would observe EU rules which bar travel by those without valid documents.
“I want my freedom, I have been on the road for a very long time, and now I am in the European Union, and I want my freedom,” said Sanil Khan, 32, leader of a group of about 100 young men who marched behind a cardboard cutout Afghan flag in a tight formation near a mainly peaceful crowd at the station.
The perils of the voyage were brought home by the images of a toddler in red t-shirt, blue shorts and tiny sneakers, washed up on the beach in Bodrum, Turkey. Turkish Police said at least 12 people had drowned from a group of 23 that had set off on two boats bound for a Greek island.
The migration crisis has confounded the EU, which is committed to the principle of accepting refugees fleeing real danger but has no mechanism to compel its 28 member states to share out the burden.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to unveil proposals in an annual state-of-the-union address to the European parliament next week. Interior ministers hold an emergency meeting five days later.
The member states’ envoys to Brussels held their first weekly meeting after a summer break and some diplomats detected a somewhat less divided atmosphere on the migrant issue – but sharp differences remain on how to share out responsibilities.
“The mood has changed,” one said. “It was a little more consensual today. There was a realisation of the challenge Europe faces. There was more appetite to do more.”
Opinion across Europe has been increasingly polarised: German soccer fans have unveiled “refugees welcome” banners at matches, while a popular British newspaper columnist called migrants “cockroaches”.
Countries like Italy, Greece and Hungary, where most migrants arrive before heading for richer countries further north, say they need more help from EU partners.
Greece, where around 2,000 people have been arriving per day on beaches in dinghies, announced plans for a new operations centre and said it would improve conditions at camps the United Nations has described as “shameful”. Four Bulgarians and two Turkish citizens had been arrested for trafficking 103 migrants in trucks, it said.
Germany has been the most welcoming, with plans to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees this year alone, adding 3.3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) to its welfare bill next year. A record 104,460 asylum seekers arrived in Germany last month, and more than 400,000 migrants have registered in a German computer system since the start of the year.
But that has caused chaos for neighbours and threatened the Schengen system that abolished frontier checks among 26 European countries. Berlin says that despite its decision to accept asylum applications from Syrians who arrive elsewhere in the EU, other EU states must still demand migrants remain in the countries where they first register.
At the opposite end of the spectrum of openness is Britain, which so far has accepted just 216 Syrian refugees under a scheme in partnership with the United Nations, as well as around 5,000 that managed to reach Britain and apply on their own.
“We have taken a number of genuine asylum seekers from Syrian refugee camps, and we keep that under review, but we think the most important thing is to try to bring peace and stability to that part of the world,” Prime Minister David Cameron said. “I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees.”
(Writing by Peter Graff; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Anna Willard)
Merkel’s conservatives want limits on incentives for refugees — paper
BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives want to limit the financial incentives for refugees coming to the country as their numbers soar, a paper showed on Wednesday, underlining the strain the crisis is putting on Europe’s largest economy.
With relatively liberal asylum laws and generous benefits, Germany is the EU’s biggest recipient of people fleeing war in the Middle East and economic migrants from southeastern Europe.
A record 104,460 asylum seekers entered the country in August, and it expects about 800,000 people to file for asylum this year – four times last year’s level.
Leaders of the conservative parliamentary bloc made up of the Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, wrote in a 12-point programme that dealing with the refugee crisis had become “the biggest domestic and foreign policy task of our time”.
They stressed that while Germany should accept civil war refugees, it needed to avoid attracting migrants who seek to benefit from its welfare system: “We don’t want immigrants coming due to our social security systems.”
Their paper is due to be discussed along with one by junior coalition partner the Social Democrats at a coalition meeting on Sunday.
The conservative leaders said refugees at centres for new arrivals should only get non-cash benefits in future. They slapped down a proposal from some federal states to hand out health cards that would entitle refugees to free treatment.
“Such a card would be very symbolic and create a strong incentive to apply for asylum because it would allow people to get free healthcare in Germany,” they said in the paper.
They rejected calls for asylum seekers to be given a work permit on the first day of their application, saying the time taken to process applications should be drastically reduced instead.
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees should get an extra 1,000 employees in 2016 for that purpose, they said.
But in the paper they also emphasized the importance of taking in civil war refugees and people who have been granted asylum.
They said Germany’s national voluntary service – a scheme set up by the government in 2011 to place volunteers in a range of sectors – should be more involved and provide at least an extra 5,000 people to help deal with the crisis, while the government should increase support for the federal states and municipalities.
They called for more consistent deportation of economic refugees and rejected asylum seekers, saying the latter group should be banned from entering Germany for up to five years.
Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer said his state, the first point of entry for many refugees in Germany, needed billions more in aid from the federal government.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
Twelve Syrians drown en route from Turkey to Greek Island
ANKARA (Reuters) – An image of a drowned toddler washed up on the beach in one of Turkey’s prime tourist resorts swept across social media on Wednesday after at least 12 presumed Syrian refugees died trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.
The picture showed a little boy wearing a bright red t-shirt and shorts lying face-down in the surf on a beach near the resort town of Bodrum. In a second image, a grim-faced policeman carries the body away.
Turkish media identified the boy as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose 5-year-old brother died on the same boat. Media reports said he was from the north Syrian town of Kobani near the Turkish border, scene of heavy fighting between Islamic State insurgents and Kurdish regional forces a few months ago.
The hashtag “KiyiyaVuranInsanlik” – “humanity washed ashore” – became the top trending topic on Twitter. In the first few hours after the accident, the image had been retweeted thousands of times.
The two boats, carrying a total of 23 people, had set off separately from the Akyarlar area of the Bodrum peninsula, a senior Turkish naval official said.
The confirmed dead included five children and one woman. Seven people were rescued and two reached the shore in life jackets. The official said hopes were fading of saving the two people still missing.
The army said its search and rescue teams had saved hundreds of migrants in the seas between Turkey and Greek islands over the last few days.
Tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the war in their homeland have descended on Turkey’s Aegean coast this summer to board boats to Greece, their gateway to the European Union.
In a statement late on Wednesday, Turkey’s National Security Council voiced concern over the immigration policies of European countries.
“European countries’ worrying approach to the flow of migrants has caused sorrow and it has been evaluated that the issue should be taken up in a basic human rights perspective.” the statement said.
The official said almost 100 people in all had been rescued by Turkish vessels overnight as they tried to reach Kos.
Aid agencies estimate that, over the past month, about 2,000 people a day have been making the short crossing to Greece’s eastern islands on rubber dinghies.
A ship bringing about 1,800 migrants and refugees from one of the islands arrived at the port of Piraeus near Athens on Tuesday night, the Greek coastguard said.
Thousands of people, mainly Africans, have also been trying to reach Europe via boat from Libya to Italy. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said four bodies had been pulled from the central Mediterranean on Tuesday and 781 migrants rescued, mostly from Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal.
So far this year, more than 2,500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean, the UNHCR said.
(Writing by Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay; Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome; Editing by Kevin Liffey/Hugh Lawson)
Truckers fear migrants crisis will lead to more border controls
By Martinne Geller
LONDON (Reuters) – Truckers caught up in Europe’s migrant crisis say business is increasingly disrupted by queues and stowaways, but they are far more worried governments will step up border controls.
If the border-free zone within Europe were to disintegrate or be scrapped, it would call into question not only the road haulage industry’s own, time-sensitive business model but the supply chains of industries across the continent, they say.
Faced with an influx of migrants, the European Union’s 28-nation members have accused one another of breaking the law with ad hoc measures and failing to join forces to agree a common, workable solution.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that if Europe fails to agree to a fair distribution of refugees, the passport-free Schengen zone encompassing 26 European states would be called into question.
For DSV, the third largest road freight operator in Europe with more than 17,000 trucks on the roads every day, that would have a serious impact that would end up fuelling inflation.
“If they start to stop all the trucks it will be costly for everyone and the bill will be passed on to customers and in the end, goods will be more expensive,” said Soren Schmidt, head of DSV Road.
Jack Semple, Director of Policy for the UK’s Road Haulage Association said its more than 6,000 member companies were already feeling the impact in an industry built on just-in-time logistics, whether for car parts or fresh produce.
Strike action by ferry workers in June exacerbated the situation by creating extra long queues.
“Our members tell us they have incurred substantial and demonstrable losses but so too have their customers. We had one case where a load of high-grade steel plate was written off because migrants had got into the trailer because it was delayed and that impacted all sorts of supply chains,” Semple said.
Britain is not a party to the Schengen agreement but its companies, with parts coming and going across the continent, would still be affected if it began to crumble.
“I think were Schengen to be scrapped, we’re into a completely new era,” Semple said. “There would have to be a rethinking of the European supply chain, stocking levels and that would obviously impact on cash flow.”
Cyrille Gibot, spokesman for Dutch logistics company TNT Express, said it was looking closely at what ministers or governments might decide. “For now we’re not going to speculate on what measures they could take,” he said.
Austria’s toughening of controls along its eastern borders last week, after 71 migrants were found dead in a truck, created long queues and raised the prospect other countries may follow suit. “If that is permanent, it could spread like wildfire,” said a senior European diplomat. “Schengen is under serious stress.” [IDnL5N118188]
For Jan Buczek, head of Poland’s Association of International Road Transport Carriers, talk of an end to Schengen, or its gradual erosion, brings back bitter memories of the time before Poland joined.
“There were passport, document controls, crosschecks, and all of this increased the waiting time to hours at best and days at worst,” he said.
Buczek, who represents 5,500 companies, says there are 27,000 companies in Poland doing international road haulage, employing 200,000 drivers.
“The cost of a driver-car set stands at around 200 euros a day, so it’s easy to imagine how much crossing borders used to cost us monthly or annually before we joined.”
The impact of any tightening of border controls would be far-reaching, he said.
“Suspending the free flow of people within the EU would definitely boost nationalistic tendencies, tendencies to close national markets, and that would limit international road transport, and have a really negative impact on the industry.”
Schaak Poppe, spokesman for the Dutch port of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest, from which much of Germany’s industrial output departs for China, said containers would be hardest hit.
The impact on bulk materials would be relatively small, since shipments of iron ore or oil were “relatively easy to deal with when it comes to customs”, he said.
The situation with containers would be far more serious, since shipments went in relatively small batches of 35 by train or inland barges, he said.
“Especially for trucking it would have quite an impact.”
A spokesman for Swiss logistics group Panalpina said 80 percent of its overland business in Europe takes place in the Schengen zone. Its abolition would mean more queues, delays, increased costs and possibly missed deadlines.
“If border controls are introduced and depending on how thorough they might be, this could have an impact on our business, and also on industry as a whole,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Ole Mikkelsen in COPENHAGEN, Wiktor Szary in WARSAW; Thomas Escritt in AMSTERDAM and Michael Shields in Zurich; writing by Philippa Fletcher; editing by Anna Willard)
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