Austria and Slovakia followed Germany by bringing back controls, putting even more pressure on officials to come up with a strategy to handle the crisis.
German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel defended the new checks, saying they were not designed to keep those fleeing violence in their homeland out of Germany but were aimed at producing a more orderly flow of people.
He demanded, in a letter to his Social Democrat Party, that other EU nations do more to help.
“[Border checks are] a ‘clear signal’ to our European partners that Germany, even if we are prepared to provide disproportionate assistance, cannot accommodate all of the refugees alone,” he wrote.
He added “everything points to the fact” that Germany will receive one million refugees.
Hungary, meanwhile, was set to introduce much harsher border controls at midnight last night – laws that can send smugglers to prison and deport migrants who cut through Hungary’s new razor-wire border fence. The country’s leader was emphatically clear that they were designed to keep migrants out.
“You have to defend Hungary and Europe. You have to defend the country’s borders while at the same time you have to protect our way of life. You are the defenders of our culture, our way of life and our sovereignty,” prime minister Viktor Orban told hundreds of police bound for the Serbian border.
The Czech Republic boosted its presence along its border with Austria yesterday but has not yet reintroduced border checks.
With the Schengen system of unfettered travel through much of the continent under increasing pressure, interior ministers from the EU’s 28 nations opened emergency talks yesterday, trying to narrow a yawning divide over how to share responsibility for the thousands of refugees arriving daily.
“If we don’t find a solution, then this chaos will be the result,” said foreign minister Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency. “That will become a domino effect and then we can forget Schengen.”
The agreement is generally considered one of the greatest achievements of the EU.
The talks focused on distributing 160,000 refugees from the front-line states of Greece, Italy and Hungary over the next two years – but at least four eastern European nations have strongly rejected suggestions they should be forced to take more people. The arrival of around 500,000 migrants so far this year has taken the EU by surprise. Germany – which has taken in by far the most of any EU nation – warned those figures would swell further.
Lacking a quick and comprehensive policy answer, EU nations have begun tightening border security or, in the case of Hungary, erecting fences.
Greece has been overwhelmed by the numbers of people coming across the sea from Turkey and says it cannot properly screen the migrants, let alone lodge them. Scuffles and fights have broken out among migrants on Greece’s eastern islands as they desperately seek a route to the mainland.
Humanitarian groups have been critical of the slow European response to the crisis that has seen thousands of families trekking across its eastern nations by train, bus or foot.
“Bear in mind that the decisions adopted in previous summits have so far largely failed to improve the situation,” Doctors Without Borders president Joanne Liu said in a letter to EU leaders.
European Union nations have agreed on an initial relocation of some 32,000 refugees away from Italy and Greece to other nations in the bloc.
The total still stops short of the 40,000 initially sought, and is only a small part of the relocation of another 120,000 refugees under discussion yesterday at an extraordinary meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels.
The ministers also agreed the nations taking on the burden of relocation would receive a lump sum of €6,000 per refugee.
Romania yesterday became the latest country to state its position on accepting migrants. President Klaus Iohannis said Romania wanted to help in Europe’s migrant crisis, suggesting it could beef up the external borders of the European Union.
He insisted his country is not “xenophobic, autistic, or separatist”, but just unable to absorb large numbers of migrants. He claimed that Romania’s problem is not finding shelter for migrants but integrating them.
Romania says it can receive 1,785 migrants, but the EU has asked the country to take in an extra 4,650 people.
An Iraqi refugee from Mosul, walking into Hungary with his family, said yesterday that Islamic State extremists had made life impossible for them at home.
Speaking at the Hungarian border town of Roszke, 34-year-old Raed Waleed Abdullah said: “Every day, the Islamic State group is issuing new orders and the situation is terrible. I had no income, there is no electricity and they were forcing us to live according to their ways… (we) reject their harsh values.”
His wife, Hala Khalil, mother of his three children, said those who refused to obey them “would be thrown from tall buildings”.