Hangzhou, China: Europe is “close to limits” on its ability to accept new waves of refugees, European Union (EU) President Donald Tusk said on Sunday, urging the broader international community to shoulder its share of the burden.
“The practical capability of Europe to host new waves of refugees, not to mention irregular economic migrants, is close to limits,” he told a press conference on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
A steady stream of refugees has flowed into Europe over the last year, largely fleeing the civil war in Syria.
The issue has become a political hot potato for leaders in the region as a series of terror attacks and rising antiglobalisation sentiment have combined to create an increasingly inhospitable environment for refugees from the brutal conflict.
The highly publicised drowning of a three-year-old Syrian boy last year temporarily softened hostility to refugees, after pictures of his corpse lying on a Greek beach rapidly became an emblematic image of the suffering involved in their journeys.
Germany threw open its borders and volunteers across Europe flocked to train stations and frontier crossings to welcome those fleeing war and poverty.
But a major backlash swiftly followed. The EU’s outer borders have since come back down hard, the so-called Balkan refugee route has shut and anti-migrant sentiment has soared.
Angela Merkel has been a strong voice pushing to continue to accept refugees. Although she won praise at first, the mood has since turned, giving way to fears over how Europe’s biggest economy will manage to integrate the million people who arrived last year alone.
Her decision has left her increasingly isolated in Europe, and exposed her to heavy criticism at home, including from her own conservative allies.
Tusk said there were 65 million displaced people around the world, and “the G20 community should scale up its share of responsibility”.
“We have enough space for all parties to discuss these problems including China,” he said, calling for financial assistance and development aid for asylum-seekers’ countries of origin. “Only global efforts will be able to bear fruits.”
Recent comments from leaders in Germany and Italy have signalled a hardening of attitudes about how to resolve the refugee crisis reshaping politics across Europe.
In March, the EU and Turkey signed a controversial deal aimed at stemming the flow of migrants to Europe.
US President Barack Obama praised Ankara’s efforts to help refugees, thanking his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the country’s “exceptional humanitarian support of refugees.”
“Turkey hosts more refugees than any country in the world, and it has been a key partner in providing aid and assistance to vulnerable citizens that have poured out of Syria as well as Iraq,” he said at a meeting with Erdogan.
“This is not an issue in which Turkey should be carrying the burden alone,” he added. “It needs support from all of us, and we intend to provide it.”