German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday admonished some European countries for what she called their failure to accept a fair share of migrants and refugees during a crisis that has caused rifts across the continent.
Merkel, who has supported an open-door policy for migrants, said Germany, Italy and Greece were dealing with the bulk of the challenges associated with accommodating hundreds of thousands of people who have made their way on perilous voyages to Europe.
The 28-nation European Union has not done enough to balance the distribution of migrants or provide services for them, she said. Many migrants and refugees have fled poverty and fighting in their home countries, many coming from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
“Europe hasn’t been doing its homework,” Merkel, who is expected to win a fourth term during a Sept. 24 election, told reporters. “We still don’t have a fair system of distribution [of migrants and refugees]. We still have a lot of work to do on that score. We have to fight the causes that people are fleeing.”
Merkel’s comments came a day after a meeting in Paris in which France, Germany, Italy and Spain agreed to a plan intended to counter human traffickers by allowing vulnerable African migrants to apply for asylum in Europe while in Africa, rather than after they reach Europe. African countries through which migrants often pass on their way to Europe would get help to control their borders, the leaders said.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the summit, called the gathering the most effective and far-reaching migration meeting in months, though many details remained undetermined, the Associated Press reported.
Fayez Serraj, the prime minister of Libya's U.N.-backed government, Chadian President Idriss Deby and Niger's president, Mahamadou Issoufou, stressed that fighting poverty must be a central part of any migration strategy, the AP reported.
Merkel said it was important to more clearly differentiate between those fleeing poverty, who usually are not granted asylum, and those whose needs are humanitarian and usually do receive asylum protection. She said the goal was to put an end to illegal migration.
Germany has taken in more than a million migrants from Syria, Iraq and other troubled countries over the last two years. Sweden and Austria also took in larger numbers of migrants earlier in the crisis but Germany, the EU’s richest country, has shouldered most of the burden with Greece and Italy over the last year.
To spread the migrants across the continent, the EU devised a plan in 2015 to relocate across the bloc about 160,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Italy and Greece, countries that serve as a gateway to Europe and have been overwhelmed by the crisis.
Although popular across much of Germany, Merkel has nevertheless faced withering heckling and jeers at some of her recent campaign rallies over her decision to allow in such large numbers of migrants for what she called humanitarian reasons.
A total of 123,644 people risked their lives to flee to Europe by sea this year through Aug. 29, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It estimated that 2,421 people were feared drowned so far this year.
Kirschbaum is a special correspondent.