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As Europe seals borders, Germany mulls tougher rules at end of refugee trail – Washington Post

European nations bickered Friday over who should be responsible for thousands of asylum seekers streaming toward their territory, as Hungary announced plans to extend a border fence and Croatia said it would no longer obey European Union rules over refugees.

The intense pressure of tens of thousands of people trying to reach Western Europe has challenged every country along the way amid deep divisions over how — or even whether — to extend a helping hand to people fleeing years of conflict in Syria and elsewhere.

Increasing border controls across the Balkans, including plans for military reinforcements by Hungary, could bring huge humanitarian challenges, with asylum seekers stranded in makeshift camps farther down the migrants’ routes in Serbia and Macedonia.

“You aren’t going to solve these problems by closing borders,” said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N. refu­gee agency, noting concerns over a bottleneck in Serbia.

The restrictions also raised risks that refugees could shift from roads to fields and forests, which could be littered with land mines left over from the Balkans wars in the 1990s.

In recent days, each nation has been left largely on its own as E.U. leaders struggle to find a common strategy. Croatia became the latest to buckle under the strain of asylum seekers trying to reach havens such as Germany and Sweden.

More than 14,000 migrants had entered the nation of 4 million by Friday, and the country shut all but one border crossing with Serbia in an attempt to halt the crush.

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said his country was stretched “far beyond our capabilities” and that it would no longer try to register people in accordance with E.U. rules. He encouraged migrants to attempt to enter Slovenia and Hungary.

“We have a heart, but we also have a brain,” he said.

But the consequences of the shift remained unclear. Neither Slovenia nor Hungary is welcoming the asylum seekers. To the north, Slovenia was forcing them to remain in Croatia.

And Hungary started to build a new razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia, adding to the 108-mile span along its Serbian frontier. The new effort, announced by Hungary’s anti-immigrant Prime Minister Viktor Orban, is an attempt to force back refugees who might try to bypass the fence facing Serbia. That border was sealed earlier this week and became the scene of clashes.

“There will be no dune, no molehill to hide behind for anyone to hope to enter the territory of Hungary illegally,” Orban told Hungarian state radio on Friday.

He said the first stage of the 25-mile fence with Croatia would be completed within the day, and that 1,100 troops would be deployed along the border by day’s end. It was unclear whether Hungary would take further measures along its long border with Croatia.

Czech authorities, meanwhile, said they were planning a military drill along the borders to test preparedness for a rush of migrants.

The stubborn response has infuriated the leaders of other nations that are shouldering far more of the burden.

Central and Eastern European countries have blocked E.U. attempts to spread asylum seekers throughout the continent. But Germany alone expects to take in 800,000 asylum seekers this year, and possibly up to 1 million.

The disparity has some German leaders suggesting that they force the wayward E.U. nations to take in refugees. Imposing requirements by majority rule, rather than by consensus, is an option under E.U. laws, but it has never before been used for an issue of such sensitivity.

“It cannot be that Germany, Austria, Sweden and Italy bear the burden alone. European solidarity does not work that way,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Germany’s Passauer Neue Presse newspaper. “If all else fails, we should seriously consider applying the instrument of the majority decision.”

Germany itself is mulling an option to slash benefits for migrants. The German measures would overhaul asylum codes to stem the massive flow of migrants into Europe, scaling back the generous policies that have made Germany a beacon for desperate war refugees and economic migrants pouring out of the Middle East, Africa and beyond.

In a 128-page draft law produced by the German Interior Ministry and obtained by The Washington Post, the government would speed asylum procedures, cut cash benefits, hasten deportations and punish those with false claims and phony paperwork.

The proposed German law would provide food and a ticket to return to the first E.U. Union country the asylum seeker entered — often Greece or Italy — instead of offering housing and cash benefits. That could mean far fewer people would win protection in Germany or elsewhere in Europe, since countries such as Hungary are generally declining to award refugee status.

In addition, asylum seekers deemed to be withholding vital information — such as their passports or proof of their country of origin — would be denied benefits. Asylum seekers also would need to remain in crowded reception centers for six months, rather than three, before earning the right to subsidized housing.

Those who failed to comply with orders to leave Germany could be subject to forced removal without advance notice.

It was unclear whether the measures, which must be approved by parliament before they can take effect, would continue to make exceptions for Syrians fleeing civil war.

“This draft counteracts the new German welcome culture,” said Karl Kopp, spokesman for the pro-refugee organization ProAsyl. “It contains a toughness and populism that is not acceptable.”

With the crisis building, and the European Union still divided over its response, European Council President Donald Tusk called an emergency meeting for Wednesday.

The U.N. refu­gee agency says more than 442,440 people have reached Europe this year on sea routes from Turkey or North Africa, and 2,921 have died along the way. The International Organization for Migration, which also helps coordinate aid efforts, puts the figure at 473,887, with 2,812 deaths.

Birnbaum reported from Brussels. Faiola reported from Berlin. Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin contributed to this report.

Read more:

Germany’s enthusiasm for refugees might not last. These maps explain why.

Refugees get a chance to wash and rest their weary soles in Budapest

Read The Post’s coverage on the global surge in migration

As Europe seals borders, Germany mulls tougher rules at end of refugee trail – Washington Post

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