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EU Meeting Focusing On Migrant Crisis To Discuss Controversial Border Checks


The open border between Germany and Austria is not so open today. German authorities have started doing passport checks at the Austrian frontier. That's an effort to reduce the number of asylum-seekers who are crossing on their way from the Middle East toward shelter. Germany has not said what will happen to refugees who are stopped. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Berlin.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Like other German cities, Berlin is scrambling to accommodate thousands of asylum-seekers arriving here each week. One proposal is to set up beds in two hangars at Tempelhof, an icon of Western resilience during the Cold War. Historical markers here describe the former airport's role in defeating a Soviet-imposed blockade of what was then West Berlin. These days, Tempelhof's runways and grassy expanses are a haven for bicyclists, kite-flyers and picnic-goers. Many, like 27-year-old Julie Steinberg, think it's great that migrants could soon be joining them here.

JULIE STEINBERG: I mean yeah, if there's free space, absolutely it has to be used.

NELSON: But it shouldn't just be Germany welcoming asylum-seekers, says another park-goer, Norman Nietzsche.

NORMAN NIETZSCHE: I think the EU is part of the problem, and I think the refugee policy of the last years was completely wrong. I think that the whole idea to try to keep the people out is completely wrong.

NELSON: Most German officials agree. Chancellor Angela Merkel annoyed many of her EU counterparts earlier this month when she eased restrictions on Syrian refugees seeking asylum here. This past weekend, the chancellor once again urged her neighbors to get on board and shoulder their fair share of the arriving migrants.


ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Merkel said, "this is not just Germany's responsibility. It's a responsibility of all member states of the European Union." As it turns out, even Germany has its limits. Interior Minister Tomas de Maziere announced yesterday police would start checking passports at the Austrian frontier to stem the flow of migrants. He didn't rule out extending such controls to more German borders.


TOMAS DE MAZIERE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: The minister said his country was being overwhelmed and must reestablish an orderly system of entry into Germany for security reasons. The anticipated break in new arrivals was welcome news in Munich, where more than 60,000 migrants have turned up in the past two weeks.


DIETER REITER: (Speaking German).

NELSON: In an interview with German broadcaster ZDF, Munich mayor Dieter Reiter said his city had reached the breaking point, despite the tireless efforts of municipal workers and volunteers. He adds, "there's nowhere left to house the newcomers except under the open sky."


REITER: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Reiter urged Berlin and Brussels to spread around the burden of future asylum-seekers and added, "a formula is needed now." But that is unlikely as the EU remains deeply divided on the question of migrants, especially on whether quotas should be mandatory. Its interior ministers are meeting in Brussels today to approve a plan to relocate 40,000 refugees from Greece and Italy. The European Commission president's new proposal to relocate an additional 120,000 refugees won't be taken up until next month.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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