BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that Europe needed to implement a joint system for dealing with asylum seekers and agree to binding quotas on how to distribute refugees across the continent.
Germany expects the number of refugees it receives to quadruple to about 800,000 this year and says it cannot continue to take them in at that rate. A state premier said on Tuesday the 800,000 figure would be surpassed in 2015.
Merkel called for a tighter application of European rules.
“This joint European asylum system cannot just exist on paper but must also exist in practice. I say that because it lays out minimum standards for accommodating refugees and the task of registering refugees,” she told a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in Berlin.
German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Monday that if countries in eastern Europe and elsewhere continued to resist accepting their fair share of refugees, the bloc’s open border regime, known as Schengen, would be at risk.
But Merkel said that European Union states needed to find a joint solution to the refugee crisis, rather than threatening each other if they did not collaborate.
“I personally, and we spoke about this, am of the opinion that we should not now outbid each other with threats. We should speak to each other in a spirit of mutual respect.”
She added that Europe needed to discuss changes to its asylum policy as neither Greece nor Italy could take in all the refugees arriving there on boats from Turkey or North Africa. Lofven echoed Merkel’s sentiment.
“Our responsibility is deeply moral. It is a human responsibility,” he said. “We have to do this together. There are 28 countries in the EU with the same responsibility.”
Smaller central and eastern European Union states have rejected any mandatory quotas for taking in refugees as the European Commission prepares to present a plan to that end.
Sweden, with one of Europe’s most generous policies on immigration, expects to receive 74,000 refugees this year.
Several hundred thousand refugees and migrants from war-torn or impoverished parts of the Middle East and Africa have reached Europe this year, but those numbers pale beside the almost 4 million in Syria’s neighbors Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Merkel spoke to Turkish Prime Minister Ahem Davutoglu by telephone about the crisis on Tuesday and praised Turkish efforts to accommodate many refugees, especially from Syria and Iraq, German government spokesman Stiffen Siebert said.
The pair agreed that the international community needed to make a joint effort to tackle the refugee crisis and that a political solution to the conflict in Syria was urgent so efforts to this end must be stepped up.
Reporting by Paul Carrel; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Mark Heinrich