A failure to handle the migrant crisis effectively could adversely affect the “idea of Europe”, Germany’s labour minister said on Thursday, calling for a fairer distribution of refugees within the European Union.
Speaking at a briefing ahead of the G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bankers in the Turkish capital this week, Andrea Nahles warned that Europe had “come to a crossroads”, and that poor handling of the influx of asylum seekers from countries like Syria was fueling skepticism towards the EU.
“We need to have more distribution of refugees because we cannot see the end (of the problem) … It would be far easier when we do not have pressure only on Sweden, Germany and Austria,” she said.
The plight of those either fleeing conflict in their own countries or seeking a better life has created furious debate in Europe, with the flood of new arrivals stretching the EU’s asylum system, as well as relations within the bloc.
Nahles rejected comments made by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban earlier in Brussels, who said that because so many migrants wanted to reach Germany, it was a “German problem”.
“When we are not able to solve this problem as Europe and we now start to say ‘that is a German problem, that is a Swedish problem, that is an Italian problem,’ then the idea of Europe will be affected,” she said.
The family of a Syrian toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach had been trying to emigrate to Canada after fleeing the war-torn town of Kobani, one of their relatives told a Canadian newspaper on Thursday.
A photograph of the tiny body of a three-year old boy washed up in the Aegean resort of Bodrum appeared in newspapers around the world on Thursday, spawning sympathy and outrage at the perceived inaction of developed nations in helping refugees.
“He had a name: Alyan Kurdi. Urgent action required — A Europe-wide mobilization is urgent,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Twitter of the boy.
The boy’s 5-year-old brother Galip and mother Rehan, 35, also died after their boat capsized while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. His father, Abdullah, was found semi-conscious and taken to hospital near Bodrum, according to Turkey’s Sabah newspaper.
“I heard the news at five o’clock this morning,” Teema Kurdi, Abdullah’s sister and a resident of Vancouver, was quoted as saying by Canada’s National Post newspaper. She had heard of the deaths from another of the boy’s aunts.
“She had got a call from Abdullah, and all he said was, my wife and two boys are dead,” Teema said.
The family were among at least 12 presumed Syrian refugees, other young children among them, who died trying to reach Kos after two boats, carrying a total of 23 people, set off from the Akyarlar area of the Bodrum peninsula, a naval official said.
Abdullah, his wife and two children had made a privately-sponsored refugee application to the Canadian authorities that was rejected in June because of complications with applications from Turkey, National Post quoted Teema as saying.
“I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbours who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat,” she said.
“I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there.”
Turkey has won international praise for taking in 2 million refugees since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, spending $6 billion caring for them and receiving just $400 million in outside aid.
But it has warned it is reaching capacity, and thousands are now making the perilous journey by boat from Turkey to Greece in a bid to enter Europe.
Kobani has been the scene of intense fighting over the last year. In recent months Kurdish regional forces have been trying to repel attempts by Islamic State to recapture the town.
Tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the war in their homeland have descended on Turkey’s Aegean coast this summer to board boats to Greece.
The Turkish army said its search and rescue teams had saved hundreds of migrants in the seas between Turkey and Greek islands over the last few days.
One of the survivors from the two capsized boats, Zeynep Abbas Hadi, fainted after seeing the dead bodies of two of her children, aged 9 and 11, footage on Dogan news agency’s website showed. Her seven-year old daughter survived, the agency said.
Another survivor, Syrian Omer Mohsin, said he swam ashore after the boat sank shortly after heading off at 2am (2300 GMT) and was now looking for his missing brother.
“There were supposed to be 10 people on the boat, but they put 17 people on board. Me and my brother paid 2,050 euros each,” Dogan quoted him as saying on its website.
The image of Aylan, the little boy wearing a bright red t-shirt and shorts lying face-down in the surf on a beach in one of Turkey’s most popular holiday regions, went viral on social media and piled pressure on European leaders.
“When I realized there was nothing to do to bring that boy back to life I thought I had to take his picture … to show the tragedy,” Nilufer Demir, a photographer with the Dogan news agency, told broadcaster CNN Turk.
“I hope the impact this photo has created will help bring a solution,” she said.
Video footage showed the body of another young child, thought to be Aylan’s brother, also lying in the sand as waves lapped his feet.
The UN refugee agency estimates that almost 160,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece by sea since the start of last year. In July more than 50,000 people, mostly Syrians, arrived in Greece compared with 43,500 in the whole of 2014.
Some 2,500 refugees and migrants are estimated to have died or gone missing this year trying to reach Europe.
The agency has repeated calls for Greece and the European Union to take steps to address the situation.
Turkish police have detained four Syrians suspected of involvement in organizing the passage of a boat which capsized, drowning 12 people including the toddler whose body’s photo went viral on social media, as they travelled from Turkey to a Greek island, Dogan news agency said on Thursday.
It said that the four, including a boat captain, were held on Wednesday evening and that their questioning was continuing.