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Germany pledges 6 bn euros for refugees as France vows to take 24,000

BERLIN: Germany pledged billions in new funds for refugees Monday, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said the tens of thousands of people flowing into her country in Europe’s biggest migrant crisis in decades would lead to profound change.

As European leaders stepped up efforts to tackle the historic crisis, France also said it would take 24,000 more asylum-seekers under a European plan to relocate 120,000 refugees from hard-hit frontline countries.

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.

Underscoring the danger brought home so graphically by last week’s picture of three-year-old Aylan 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 island.

And migrants rescued by Italian coastguards on Sunday said five of their group were still missing.

Merkel, at a joint news conference with her vice-chancellor, said: “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.”

Germany is expecting at least 10,000 more refugees to arrive on Monday, an official in the south of the country said, after 20,000 entered over the weekend.

Merkel hailed as “breathtaking” the emotional and warm welcome given to thousands of migrants who arrived in packed trains in Germany after a gruelling odyssey through Hungary and Austria.

Germany was now seen by many abroad as a place of “hope”, Merkel said, after citizens turned up in large numbers to shower the new arrivals with gifts, cash and toys.

Europe’s top economy — which expects 800,000 asylum requests this year, four times last year’s total — faces extra costs estimated at 10 billion euros ($11 billion) this year and next.

Merkel said that the federal government would contribute six billion euros for new shelters, extra police and language training in 2016.

Schengen ‘collapse’ warning

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”.

Europe has battled to overcome deep divisions on the migrant crisis and French President Francois Hollande warned that unless the EU makes a greater collective effort, the core European ideal of open borders will be in peril.

“If there is not a united policy, this mechanism will not work, it will collapse, and it will … undoubtedly be the end of Schengen, the return of national borders,” he said about the passport-free zone across much of the continent.

But Europe looked far from united as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has taken a hard line, said quotas would be futile so long as refugees kept streaming in.

“As long as we can’t defend Europe’s outer borders, it is not worth talking about how many people we can take in,” Orban said in a speech in Budapest.

Hungary, struggling with massive numbers arriving through the Balkans, had Friday and Saturday bussed refugees to the border with Austria, from where some 20,000 travelled on to Germany over the weekend.

EU quotas

Under pressure from Berlin and Paris, the European Union is readying fresh quotas that would see the two top EU economies take nearly half of the 120,000 refugees to be relocated, under a plan by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

According to Juncker’s proposal to be unveiled Wednesday, Germany would take over 31,000, France 24,000, and Spain almost 15,000 to relieve the burden on frontline countries Greece, Italy and Hungary, a European source told AFP.

Hollande confirmed France would take in 24,000 refugees over the next two years and proposed to host an international conference on Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

In Berlin, hundreds of refugees and their children again sat on blankets and suitcases outside a registration centre, as volunteers brought them water and food, in scenes repeated across the country.

“Germany is one of the best countries in Europe and the world, but it’s too slow here with the paperwork,” said a 25-year-old Syrian music student, waiting for his turn in the overwhelmed office.

“I’ve been here for 12 days without anything happening.”

The governor of the Bank of Finland, Erkki Liikanen, meanwhile said he would do his part by donating a month’s salary to help asylum-seekers.

“That is 10,000 euros ($11,200),” he wrote on Facebook. “I know the funds will get across to those who are suffering the most.”

And the UN High Commissioner urged Italian millionaires to help Syrian refugees in Jordan by donating 15,000 euros, enabling 10 families to live in dignity for a year.

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