German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that the burden of taking on hundreds of thousands of refugees could not fall on just a few European countries and called for quotas to ensure a fair distribution of those seeking asylum.
Speaking in the Swiss capital Berne, she also acknowledged that Europe’s so-called Dublin rules, which require migrants to apply for asylum in the first European Union country they arrive, were not working.
“The German government says the Dublin approach is not working anymore, because so many refugees are arriving at our external borders that we can’t leave Italy or Greece alone to deal with this task,” she said at a news conference in Berne.
“At the same time, if we say that Italy and Greece can’t be left alone with this task, then neither can it be that three countries, like Sweden, Austria and Germany, are left alone with the lion’s share of the task.”
Germany announced last month it would take in refugees from Syria regardless of where they first enter the EU but has nevertheless continued to insist that other countries must abide by rules requiring asylum seekers to apply in the countries where they first arrive.
Berlin is preparing for as many as 800,000 to arrive this year, making it by far the biggest host for refugees in Europe, and Merkel has emerged as a leader on the issue, arguing that humanitarian principles require Europe to take in refugees.
However, Germany’s openness has caused confusion for neighbours, which have alternated this week between allowing migrants to pass through and blocking them.
Sweden and Austria, while smaller, also have taken in more refugees per capita than other European countries.
French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday he had agreed with Merkel on a proposal for a permanent, mandatory programme to distribute refugees among the countries of the European Union. Many European countries, including Britain, have so far resisted such mandatory quotas.
Merkel said Europe must solve the refugee crisis with “fairness and solidarity” and that Germany stood ready to take on more asylum seekers than its partners, given its size and robust economy.
“Germany is prepared, in light of its economic strength, to focus not only on the population figure, but to find quotas and rules that are fair and take into account what is possible in each country.”