EU nations must not refuse Muslim migrants, says Merkel

Chancellor rejects her vice chancellor’s criticism that she underestimated the challenge of integrating m migrants

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The refusal of some EU countries to accept Muslim refugees is “unacceptable”, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday as Germany called for quotas to divide the influx throughout the bloc.

“That’s not right at all that some countries say: ‘generally speaking, we don’t want to have Muslims in our countries’,” Merkel told German public television channel ARD.

During the interview, Merkel rejected Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel’s criticism that the conservatives had “underestimated” the challenge of integrating record numbers of migrants.

Gabriel leads the Social Democrats (SPD) -- the junior coalition partner in Merkel’s government -- and his comments come as campaigning kicks off for a federal election next year and regional elections in Berlin and the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

He had also criticised Merkel’s catchphrase “Wir schaffen das” (“We can do this”), which she adopted during last year’s migrant crisis.

In the spotlight

The chancellor used the phrase at a news conference in late July after a spate of attacks on civilians in Germany, including two claimed by ISIS, that put her open-door migrant policy in the spotlight and dented her popularity.

Merkel said the federal government had worked hard with state and municipal authorities to solve problems, changed laws and provided funding.

Backing the idea of a quota system for taking in migrants, the German leader stressed that “everyone must do their part,” and that “a common solution must be found.”

A common European migration policy is a highly controversial issue, which will be on the agenda of an EU summit next month, with eastern members the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia refusing to take in refugees under an EU-wide quota system championed by Berlin.

Slovak President Robert Fico has vowed he would “never bring even a single Muslim” into his country.

In 2015, Germany took in around a million asylum seekers, most from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, and this year it expects up to 300,000 more to arrive, the Federal Office for Migrants and Refugees (BAMF) said on Sunday.

“We can ensure optimal services for up to 300,000. Should more people arrive, it would put us under pressure, then we would go into so-called crisis mode. But even then we would not have conditions like last year,” BAMF chief Frank-Juergen Weise told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper

Merkel’s decision last September to open the doors to asylum seekers was seen in many European nations, notably those in the east, as an invitation for further mass migration.

Some, like the Slovak leader, voiced fears of the emergence of a significant Muslim community in their countries.

On Tuesday, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said he does not want a “large Muslim community... given the problems we are seeing” and that each EU member should be able to choose how many migrants to accept.

German public sentiment is sharply divided when it comes to Merkel, who has not yet said whether she will stand for a fourth term in a general election expected in September or October next year.

Decline in popularity

Merkel’s domestic popularity has declined, a poll showed on Sunday, with 50 per cent of Germans against her serving a fourth term in office after a federal election next year.

Support for Merkel has weakened after a string of violent attacks on civilians in July, three of which were carried out by asylum seekers. Of those, two were claimed by ISIS.

This has raised opposition to Merkel’s open-door migrant policy.

Half of the 501 people questioned in the Emnid poll for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper were against Merkel staying in office beyond the 2017 election, with 42 per cent wanting her to remain.