Melissa Eddy, New York Times, September 13, 2015
With record numbers of migrants pouring across the Hungarian border and rushing west, Germany, the country that had been the most welcoming in Europe, suddenly ordered temporary border restrictions on Sunday that cut off rail travel from Austria and instituted spot checks on cars.
The German move came just one day before European ministers were scheduled to meet in Brussels to discuss a plan to distribute tens of thousands of migrants across Europe, with many governments, particularly in Eastern Europe, bristling at being forced to accept more migrants than they wish to take.
The restrictions put in place by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government were seen as a strong sign–if not an outright message–to other European Union members that Germany was growing weary of shouldering so much of the burden in Europe’s largest humanitarian crisis in decades without more help and cooperation from other nations.
For others, though, the concern was that if even the richest and most powerful nation in the 28-member union was showing signs of reaching its limit, how would Europe be able to find a path through a seemingly ceaseless refugee emergency?
When word of the new restrictions made the rounds at the main station in Salzburg, Austria, the last major stop on the rail journey to Germany, hundreds of migrants were taken off the blocked trains and to a garage nearby, the German Press Agency said.
A simple sign was posted on the station’s information boards: “No railway service by order of German authorities due to the German migrant crisis.”
Interior Minister Thomas de Mazière said that it was “desperately necessary” for Germany to limit the number of people coming into the country and “reinstate an orderly entry process” after two weeks that left the country straining to accommodate the new arrivals.
Although one of the proudest European achievements of recent decades was passport-free travel between most member nations, the rules allow the reinstatement of border restrictions in cases of crisis and national security, he said.
Hungary’s government, which has taken a particularly hard line in the crisis, reacted warmly to Germany’s announcement on Sunday.
“Hungary understands Germany’s decision, and Hungary is standing by Germany,” Peter Szijjarto, the country’s foreign minister, said at a news conference.
He said Hungary welcomed Berlin’s decision, which he described as defending German and European values, adding that Hungary made a new proposal of its own on Sunday: calling for a Continentwide effort to defend the borders of Greece, the first stop on the migrant path.