BERLIN // A strong majority of Germans back Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to throw open the doors of Europe’s biggest economy to refugees, according to surveys published on Friday.
Two-thirds of those who responded to the ZDF Politbarometer poll said they agreed with the decision to give refuge to asylum-seekers stranded in Hungary, while only 29 per cent were opposed.
Another survey, by public broadcaster ARD Germany, showed similar sentiments, with 61 per cent saying they were not afraid that too many refugees were arriving in the country.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday more than 430,000 migrants and refugees have reached Europe via the Mediterranean since the start of the year, adding that nearly 2,750 had died attempting the trip.
The IOM said it had recorded 432,761 arrivals in Europe since January 1, comprising 309,356 in Greece, 121,139 in Italy, 2,166 in Spain and 100 on the island of Malta.
Berlin has said it expects to receive 800,000 asylum-seekers this year, four times as many as last year and the equivalent to about one per cent of its population.
Nevertheless, 62 per cent of those polled believed Germany can cope with the surge in refugees, while only 35 per cent disagreed.
The migrant crisis is “probably the biggest challenge for the European Union in its history,” Germany’s foreign minister declared on Friday — but despite his warning, at least four Central European nations firmly rejected an EU proposal for mandatory refugee quotas.
As German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke in Prague, a trickle of migrants marching toward Vienna swelled into a torrent Friday as thousands engulfed a major Austrian motorway. Police briefly closed the A4 expressway to Vienna to vehicles because of the potential dangers posed by so many people on its shoulders.
Mr Steinmeier had urged fellow EU nations to give more help to those seeking safety in Europe. Germany has already seen 450,000 migrants enter the country and is expecting at least 800,000 this year, the most in Europe.
“No single country can resolve such a challenge alone — we need European solidarity,” he said
CSU vice president Hans-Peter Friedrich called Merkel’s decision “an unprecedented political error” that would have “catastrophic consequences”, according to a report published Friday in the Passauer Neue Presse daily.
* Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters