The head of the European Parliament has launched a scathing attack on some European countries he accuses of failing to take in refugees.
Martin Schulz says amid the European blame game the Mediterranean Sea is being turned into a “mass grave” while “gruesome scenes” are being played out at borders.
“We are not dealing with a failure of the EU, but rather with a glaring failure of some governments, who don’t want to take responsibility and thereby impede a joint European solution,” Schulz, a German Social Democrat, said in an interview with the country’s Die Welt newspaper.
It came as 683 migrants and refugees arrived at Messina in Sicily on Saturday after being rescued from boats in the Mediterranean by the Italian coast guard.
The bodies of two who died trying to cross from Africa were also brought ashore.
In Austria police stopped another truckload of refugees close to the German border. Three severely dehydrated children were among more than two dozen on board.
In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) hundreds again boarded trains bound for Serbia, many heading for other northern destinations.
“Maybe Norway, maybe Germany, maybe Austria, we don’t know,” said one man. “We are from Syria. We have a lot of problems… I am from Derik (a small city in the northeast)… (it) is the name of the city. We have a lot of problems. You know what is happening in Syria”.
Some 3,500 people take the train every day in the village of Gevgelija.
Three people have been arrested in Libya suspected of helping launch a boat packed with migrants that sank, killing up to 200 people.
At the end of last week the EU’s border control agency Frontex held a rescue drill off the Libyan coast, on board the Norwegian rescue vessel Siem Pilot.
During the exercise, as the ship drew closer to the North African coast, the crew practiced what they would have to do in the coming hours – trying to rescue people desperately seeking a new life in Europe.
‘‘Sometimes we have very very poor, very sick, very sad people who are in great distress,” said Tomas, a military adviser and rescue diver.
“We have seen children ten years old travelling alone. No parents, no father or mother, just alone. That’s tough to see.”
Earlier the agency said it had helped save 3,400 migrants off Libya over the previous week.
My gratitude to the many rescue workers and ships that today and everyday save lives in Med. We owe them as well a real EU migration policy— EP President (@EP_President) 22 Août 2015
The EU’s 28 member states have not agreed on binding quotas for the distribution of refugees.
The difficulty of agreeing a common policy was manifest in June when leaders angrily rejected European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal that they accept binding quotas to share out asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece.
“The governments of some member states must finally remove their blockade and end this unworthy game,” Martin Schulz told Die Welt.
He did not single out any states. However, Hungary, which is part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, is building a fence along its border with Serbia to contain what it calls a threat to European security, prosperity and identity.
Britain has a long-standing exemption from EU rules on border issues, along with Ireland and Denmark. Eastern European states have pleaded immigrants would simply not fit in.
Germany expects to receive a record 800,000 refugees and asylum-seekers this year.
“The current refugee crisis shows what happens when there is less Europe,” Schulz said.
“The Mediterranean becomes a mass grave, gruesome scenes play out at borders, there is mutual blame – and those in greatest need, seeking our protection, are left without help.”
Schulz said some EU countries, “who don’t care about European integration”, had prevented agreement on a Europe-wide plan to tackle the refugee crisis.
“That is more than cynical, when one looks at the plight of the refugees,” he added.
The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also called on governments to do more to meet their international obligations in their response to refugees and migration.