Angela Merkel Calls for European Unity to Address Migrant Crisis


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Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany at a news conference in Berlin on Monday.

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Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

BERLIN — Faced with a humanitarian crisis that shows no signs of letting up, Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her fellow Germans and other Europeans a pep talk on Monday, praising those assisting the thousands seeking asylum here but warning that the Continent’s open-border policy was at risk unless all European countries showed an equal willingness to help.

The chancellor, whose summer was interrupted by an urgent effort to secure a third financial aid package for Greece, has found herself under fire for what political opponents and even some members of her coalition government have called foot-dragging in dealing with the migration crisis.

About 800,000 people are expected to seek asylum in Germany this year, but overcrowded reception centers, a lack of personnel and outbreaks of far-right hatred against some of the new arrivals have left Germany, and some of its European partners, struggling in recent months to cope with the influx.

The discovery last week of the bodies of 71 people who were believed to have been bound for the German border in a truck abandoned alongside a highway in Austria has pushed the issue to the fore of the European agenda.

At a regular summer news conference in Berlin on Monday, Ms. Merkel encouraged Germans and other Europeans to recall the principles of justice and human rights that were at the heart of the response to the crisis.

“If Europe fails on the question of refugees, if this close link with universal civil rights is broken, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” Ms. Merkel said, urging the 27 other countries in the bloc to take more responsibility in offering asylum to refugees.

“Europe as a whole must move,” Ms. Merkel said, warning that failing to do so would weaken the agreements that had led to the elimination of border controls and an increase in freedom of movement through much of the Continent over the past 20 years, under what is known as the Schengen agreement.

“If we don’t succeed in fairly distributing refugees then of course the Schengen question will be on the agenda for many,” Ms. Merkel said.

With increasing numbers hoping to come to Germany, lured by the stability and job prospects offered by Europe’s largest economy, Ms. Merkel urged Germans to look at the situation in the context of the country’s history.

“The world sees Germany as a country of hope and opportunity, that was not always the case,” Ms. Merkel said, reminding Germans that they could be proud of a postwar country based on the principles of dignity, human rights and the right to political asylum.

Ms. Merkel said her government was planning measures in the coming months aimed at coordinating efforts between communities, states and the federal government, which each carry different responsibilities in welcoming, processing and integrating those who are granted the right to remain in the country as refugees.

Ms. Merkel praised the thousands of Germans who had opened their homes and pocketbooks to the newcomers and who had donated their time. “There is no tolerance for those who question the dignity of other people,” she said, echoing comments she made last week at a reception center for asylum seekers in the eastern German city of Heidenau that had been the site of violent protests.

Germany needs to be able to process applications more swiftly, and language and elementary-school teachers are needed to help families adapt — in Berlin alone, 400 new classes of students will be starting the new school year, the chancellor said.

Germany must also overcome logistical hurdles like the cumbersome bureaucracy needed to construct shelters at a rapid enough pace, she said, pointing out the country lacks a fire safety ordinance for tents. Ms. Merkel said her government would address issues like those in a law that she hoped would be passed before the end of the year.

“German thoroughness is super, but right now what we need is German flexibility,” Ms. Merkel said, recalling the government’s swift reaction to the global banking crisis of 2008, the ability to respond to natural disasters and, 25 years ago, the reunification of East and West Germany.



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