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EU officials seek unity, action on migrants

LONDON — With increasing public consternation about the flow of immigrants and asylum seekers to Europe and the dangers of their passage, Germany, France, and Britain made a joint call Sunday for an urgent meeting of European Union interior and justice ministers to find concrete measures to cope with the escalating crisis.

In a quick response, Luxembourg — which holds the revolving presidency of the European Union — called such a meeting for Sept. 14 in Brussels.

What is most urgent, the interior ministers of the three countries said, is agreement on the establishment of welcome centers in Greece and Italy to house, feed, and screen immigrants and asylum seekers, and to decide who should be allowed to stay as a legal refugee and who should be sent back home.


Similarly, the ministers said, the European Union must agree on a list of “safe countries of origin,” from which people would be considered immigrants, not refugees, and therefore allowed to be sent home. The ministers’ appeal included the prospect of an emergency summit meeting of bloc leaders to follow.

The interior ministers — Thomas de Maizière of Germany, Theresa May of Britain, and Bernard Cazeneuve of France — had come together to address how to improve security on Europe’s trains, especially in the open-border Schengen zone, after a young Moroccan gunman tried to attack a train from Amsterdam to Paris on Aug. 21 before being foiled by passengers.

The gruesome discoveries last week of 71 migrants’ bodies in a truck on an Austrian highway and of more than 100 people who drowned off Libya have intensified pressure on the European Union to come up with a safer common system for the surge of migrants from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and other countries in crisis.

“There is a need to take measures immediately to face up to the challenge from these migrant flows,” the three ministers said in a statement.


The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has called for a compassionate reception of immigrants after weeks of silence on the issue. She was pressed in part by proposals from important members of the Social Democrats, who are junior members of a grand coalition with her Christian Democrats.

The Social Democrat foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and his party’s leader, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, wrote an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung — which generally favors the Christian Democrats — and laid out a 10-point program, including a common European code of asylum.

A senior German official, who requested anonymity to address a diplomatic issue, noted that the article had not been written with the interior minister, de Maizière, a Christian Democrat, in a clear effort to distinguish the Social Democrats in the minds of voters.

Merkel, who tends to weigh facts and public opinion carefully before declaring a position, clearly got the message. Germany has said it expects up to 800,000 asylum seekers this year, prompting anxiety and political criticism, even though only 310,000 migrants and asylum seekers have reached Europe so far this year, according to the United Nations.

The German government said last week that Syrians would be allowed to apply for asylum in Germany, even if they entered the EU in another country.