BERLIN: Britain and France on Monday joined Germany in pledging to accept tens of thousands of refugees as Europe’s record influx of people fleeing war and misery sparked warnings that one Greek migrant chokepoint was “on the verge of explosion”.
European leaders are scrambling for solutions as bloody conflicts in Syria, Iraq and beyond have sent hundreds of thousands of desperate people on dangerous voyages through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean to the 28-nation EU.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is Europe’s top refugee destination, hailed the warm welcome her citizens gave to 20,000 asylum-seekers who streamed across its southern borders on weekend trains, and pledged billions more in money to house them.
Signalling that the huge wave of arrivals marked a new milestone for Europe’s biggest economy, she said that “what we are experiencing now is something that will … change our country in coming years”.
“We want the change to be positive, and we believe we can accomplish that”, she said.
As EU leaders stepped up efforts to tackle the historic crisis, France said it would take 24,000 more asylum-seekers under a European plan to relocate 120,000 refugees from hard-hit frontline countries.
And British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps near the war-torn country’s borders over the next five years.
In Greece, the situation on Lesbos island near Turkey was “on the verge of explosion” with the recent arrival of more than 15,000 mainly Syrian refugees, the immigration minister warned.
Elsewhere tensions have flared too as about 40 men rioted at a Spanish migrant detention centre in Valencia late on Sunday and dozens tried to escape, in clashes that left five police injured.
Meanwhile, the poor and desperate kept coming, both on the land corridor through Turkey and the Balkans and on overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean on journeys that have claimed thousands of lives this year.
However, despite German solidarity, Merkel stressed that other EU countries must take in more migrants because “only with common European solidarity can we master this effort”.
Underscoring the danger brought home by last week’s shocking image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying drowned in the surf, a Greek passenger ferry on Monday sent its lifeboats to rescue 61 migrants whose boat was at risk of sinking off Lesbos.
Libyan coastguards said they had rescued over 120 migrants aboard a rubber boat in trouble on the high seas en route to Europe. Elsewhere migrants rescued by Italian authorities on Sunday said five of their group were still missing.
As governments have cracked down on ruthless people smugglers charging thousands of dollars for the dangerous sea journeys, Turkey detained a fifth trafficking suspect over two boat sinkings last week, including the one which claimed the life of the three-year-old boy.
Germany was meanwhile expecting 10,000 refugees to arrive on Monday, a Bavarian official said, after more than 20,000 arrived on around 100 trains from Hungary through Austria over the weekend. Merkel hailed as “breathtaking” the emotional and warm welcome given to the thousands of migrants and said Germany was now seen by many abroad as a place of “hope” after citizens turned up in large numbers to shower the new arrivals with gifts, cash and toys.