As EU steps up controls, refugees wish for open land borders from Turkey

Officials from across Europe arrived in Brussels to discuss instituting quotas to distribute 160,000 asylum seekers throughout the continent. Some countries have balked at the plan, while Germany, Austria and Hungary have tightened up their borders. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Turkey, where tens of thousands refugees are hoping to get to Europe.

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    Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants continued their long journeys today in Europe, as the continent's leaders met to chart a path forward and the two-decade-old free travel policy among European Union nations was put on hold.

    From Izmir, Turkey, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.


    Interior ministers from across Europe arrived in Brussels with a quota plan on the table to spread 160,000 asylum-seekers across the continent.

    The E.U. did agree on relocating 40,000 migrants, but felt short of consensus on a more comprehensive plan.

    DIMITRIS AVRAMOPOULOS, European Commissioner for Migration and House Affairs: But for our proposal on 120,000, we didn't hear the agreement we wanted. A majority of the member states are ready to move forward, but not all. The commission is determined to take action. We will need another council meeting in the coming days.

    This has always been how Europe works. When we do not succeed the first time, yes, we try again. The world is watching us. It is time for each and every one to take their responsibilities.


    But others, especially those in the poorer states of Eastern Europe, balked at any talk of quotas.

  • MAN:

    We think that quotas is not the solution. And we have to help the countries which are most affected by these huge flows of migrants.


    But, amid the debate in Brussels, Europe's system of no borders began to crumble. On Sunday, Germany imposed stricter border controls and sent in more police to step up screening. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his government remains committed to the effort, but needs help.

  • FRANK-WALTER STEINMEIER, Foreign Minister, Germany (through interpreter):

    We stand by our responsibility, and will continue to do so, but we must also make sure that we keep our own shop in order. Germany clearly cannot manage this burden alone. We must introduce a real responsibility-sharing. If everybody takes on their fair share, then the burden will be manageable for everybody.


    The German move caused traffic backups at the border with Austria, and set off a chain reaction along the route the migrants take to get to Germany. In Austria, the government added its own controls along the border with Hungary.

    Some 14,000 refugees entered Austria on Sunday alone, and at least 7,000 more came today, before officials moved to stem the flow. And Hungary's conservative government stepped up its own aggressive efforts. Crews raced to complete a fence along the border with Serbia, and troops deployed to seal off unfinished portions. Tomorrow, new laws in Hungary will allow police to jail anyone trying to enter the country illegally.

    Meanwhile, in Turkey, refugees waiting in Izmir watched the developments across Europe with foreboding. The port city is one of the staging posts feeding into the human smuggling racket. It's an expensive and often perilous journey to the Greek islands, not far away for the many here in the district of Basmane. They are mainly Syrians, sleeping where they can, in squalid, unsanitary conditions.

    These sleeping represent just a fraction of the tens of thousands of refugees who have gathered on Turkey's Mediterranean coastline hoping to get to Europe. Some children were up early on a day when the winds and seas were said to be favorable for the voyage. In the mosque in the main square, where many refugees shelter, the most desperate desire is for the European Union to open the land borders between Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria to put an end to the drownings that have claimed thousands.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    One important thing regarding our Turkish brothers who deal with Arab countries, migrants and those who seek asylum to these European countries, finish your good deed. See all these families with your own eyes. For Turkey, America, and the E.U., all the countries that demand human rights, open the crossing. Why would children suffer? Families are incurring debts to come here and cross, and some drown.


    As she sat with her grandchildren in the shade in the mosque, Rahme Habul, from Aleppo in Syria, was unaware that European countries were hastily fortifying their frontiers. She says three of her sons were kidnapped and murdered by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    RAHME HABUL, Syrian migrant (through interpreter): I intend to go from my country, Syria, to Germany or any destination you take us. I don't know. I think God would oversee this. God chose to take my kids. They killed them. They told me they grinded them in a cement factory and left them there. Why? For what?


    Some European politicians have said there's no need for the Syrians to leave Turkey, where they are now safe from war. But living conditions in the makeshift camps there are grim. And some of the refugees are concerned that if they make it across the sea to Greece, they will get stuck on the wrong side of the fence being erected by Hungary.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    We have heard that Hungary is closing the borders in the face of Syrians. Is this news true or not? We demand that the barbed wires be removed and facilitate their transportation.


    The European Union may be talking about how to accommodate 160,000 refugees and migrants in an orderly fashion, but all the indications are that that is a completely unrealistic figure.

    And later this week in Turkey, there is going to be an attempt to test the resolve of Europe to protect its outer limits; 3,000 people are planning to march from Istanbul to Edirne, which is where the Greek and Bulgarian borders meet. What they want to do is to open the gates of Europe and put an end to the sea crossings.

    The refugees here are desperately hoping that they succeed. And if they do, it could divide a very fractious Europe still further.

    For the PBS NewsHour, this is Malcolm Brabant in Izmir, Turkey.

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