German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel on Tuesday said his country is capable of accommodating at least 500,000 refugees a year for several years and it expected more than 800,000 asylum-seekers this year – four times the 2014 figure.
Gabriel reiterated that other European Union (EU) states should share the burden and urged that they play their part.
In an interview with Germany’s public ZDF Television, the German VC said that the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, says a record 7,000 Syrian migrants arrived in Macedonia alone on Tuesday while 30,000 were on Greek islands.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is Europe’s top refugee destination, hailed the warm welcome her citizens gave to 20,000 asylum seekers who streamed across its southern borders on weekend trains, and pledged billions more in money to house them.
The migrant influx has unsettled European governments and prompted diverse responses. Hungary’s conservative leadership is building a border fence to try to keep them out, but German politicians have expressed pride in crowds who turned out to welcome new arrivals.
A Greek minister said that the island of Lesbos, which sits off the Turkish coast, was “on the verge of an explosion” due to a build-up of 20,000 migrants.
The government and UNHCR have brought in extra staff and ships to process them.
Gabriel said Germany was prepared for more in the longer term. “I believe we could certainly deal with a half a million for several years. I have no doubt about it; maybe even more.”
His statement came only a day after Britain and France had joined Germany in pledging to accept tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.
As EU leaders stepped up efforts to tackle the historic crisis, France said it would take 24,000 more asylum-seekers under a European plan to relocate 120,000 refugees from hard-hit frontline countries.
And British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps near the war-torn country’s borders over the next five years.
Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz on Tuesday said that his nation is capable of accepting more refugees than the figure of 2,000 that it has declared, but with conditions.
She said that Poland must be able to verify that it is receiving refugees, fleeing for their lives, who are ready to start a new life in Poland and have “no hostile feelings for the country.”
Dubbing the influx of refugees and migrants to Europe a “humanitarian catastrophe,” she said that European Union nations should secure their outside borders and develop a policy of returning migrants home if their countries are safe.
“Poland wants to show solidarity but must also act in a responsible way,” Kopacz said.
In contrast to the welcoming gestures of the said EU countries, Denmark has sent back a first group of refugees who arrived from Germany, Danish police said Tuesday, with others expected to follow.
“These are people who do not want to seek asylum in Denmark and are therefore here illegally. They have been deported and barred from re-entering the country for two years,” police in southern Denmark said in a statement.
In Norway, hotel mogul Petter Stordalen on Tuesday has offered to house refugees free of charge in his Nordic Choice hotel chain, saying that he is ready to provide 5,000 overnight stays, in an offer presented to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration.
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said that Spain will accept the number of refugees which is recommended by the executive arm of the European Union in Brussels, while the Dutch government is making an extra 110 million euros ($123 million) available to help fund safe migrant accommodation near Syria.
As governments have cracked down on ruthless people smugglers charging thousands of dollars for the dangerous sea journeys, Turkey detained a fifth trafficking suspect over two boat sinkings last week, including the one which claimed the life of the three-year-old boy who was found dead on a Turkish shore.