An Italian naval dinghy approaches a boat filled with migrants in the Mediterranean at the weekend when Italy's navy recued 3,000 people
An Italian naval dinghy approaches a boat filled with migrants in the Mediterranean at the weekend when Italy's navy recued 3,000 people © AP

Angela Merkel will host French counterpart François Hollande in Berlin on Monday to discuss Europe’s response to the growing migrant problem as well as the crisis in Ukraine.

The meeting between the German chancellor and the French president comes after the Italian navy over the weekend rescued some 3,000 people who were found on a dozen vessels in the Mediterranean, which has become a deadly crossing point for people from Africa and the Middle East who are seeking asylum in the EU.

Germany expects to receive a record 800,000 refugees this year, more than the entire EU received in 2014 and about 1 per cent of the country’s population. Senior government officials have warned that the Schengen zone, which allows free movement across almost all of the western and central European mainland, cannot be maintained unless other EU states agree to take in asylum seekers.

Ms Merkel has described the migrant situation as far more of a concern than either the plight of the euro or the political crisis in Greece. The European Commission last week announced a fresh attempt to share refugees more equally between member states after an earlier push for a European solution descended into squabbling between leaders.

The commission’s proposal, set to be tabled before the end of this year, aims to share applicants should one country receive a sudden leap in the number of people claiming asylum. Most of the recent refugees are thought to be arriving through Italy and Greece after fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and escaping poverty in Africa.

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday called for a “binding quota” for the distribution of refugees in the EU.

Signalling that Berlin is renewing its campaign for all EU states to be obliged to accept quotas of refugees, Mr Steinmeier praised Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, for pushing for such a scheme. “That Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed such a quota system, that was brave, that was right,” he told a conference. “And we will in any case support such this idea further.”

Germany has called for EU rules that refugees must seek asylum in the first European country on which they set foot to be upheld. By not enforcing this so-called Dublin principle, member states have allowed people to travel to richer parts of the region, such as Germany, where unemployment is often much lower and wages higher.

Norbert Röttgen, who heads the German government’s foreign affairs committee, has also attacked Slovakia over remarks from its interior minister that it would only accept Christian refugees.

About 2,000 migrants broke through a sealed border between Greece and Macedonia on Saturday, according to Reuters, before boarding trains and buses to take them to the border with Serbia to the north. Serbia, which like Macedonia lies outside the EU, borders Hungary, which is part of the 28-member bloc. Hungary is building a razor-wire fence to prevent people crossing its border.

Thomas de Maizière, interior minister for Germany, said last week that control-free borders, such as those under the Schengen agreement, could not exist for ever “without a real European asylum policy”.

626,000

Number of refugee applications made to EU member states last year

Mr de Maizière said: “We don’t want border controls — we want the free movement of people. My aim is a European answer which keeps control-free borders.”

Germany has become the most popular destination for refugees, which processed almost a third of the 626,000 applications made to EU member states last year.

Ms Merkel on Monday condemned rightwing demonstrators who staged three nights of violent protests outside a newly opened refugee centre near Dresden, in eastern Germany.

The demonstrations came as Ms Merkel’s administration considers its response to the surge of asylum seekers coming to Germany and other EU states, which is testing governments’ capacity to cope with the inflows and prompting public concern.

Ms Merkel’s spokesman said there was “no justification” for the violent demonstrations outside a former DIY store in the town of Heidenau, where several hundred refugees are to be housed. Up to a thousand protesters, including neo-Nazis, have clashed with the police over the past three nights as they tried unsuccessfully to stop buses carrying asylum seekers from entering the centre.

“It is repellent how rightwing extremists and neo-Nazis are trying to spread their gloomy message of hate at a refugee centre. And it is shameful how citizens, even families with children, are supporting this nightmare by coming along [to these demonstrations],” said Steffen Seibert, the spokesman.

Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande were also expected to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, with both leaders set to meet the country’s president, Petro Poroshenko, after their meeting.

Letter in response to this report:

EU’s lack of action over migrant crisis is shaming / From Richard Katz

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