NEWS

East-West Divide On Refugee Emergency Undermining EU's Response

09/08/2015 12:42 EDT | Updated 09/08/2015 12:59 EDT

BRUSSELS- The tens of thousands of refugees rushing razor-wire borders or cramming into Germany-bound buses and trains have laid bare weaknesses in the European Union's migration policy and exposed a deep East-West rift tearing at EU unity.

Despite the scale of the refugee emergency, many eastern European and Baltic nations-- former Soviet satellites with less multicultural experience and economic prowess than their fellow Western European countries-- viscerally oppose being told to host migrants and refugees on their soil.

Their position is in stark contrast with that of Germany and Austria, which have opened their borders to thousands of migrants in recent days.

On Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will step up his efforts to get a faster response from the bloc's 28 member nations, unveiling a plan to fairly distribute more than 120,000 people fleeing conflict zones like Syria.

That is unlikely to get co-operation from countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. In a joint statement last week, the four said they would not accept any mandatory or permanent quotas to take in migrants.

They have already rejected a previous EU attempt to share 40,000 refugees, only a fraction of what Juncker is seeking now.

"We are willing to be part of the solution,'' said Slovakia's foreign minister, Miroslav Lajcak on Saturday. "But not as an arbitrary decision by some bureaucrat,'' he said, referring to policy makers at Juncker's Commission.

Slovakia accepted around 100 refugees last year, about a third of those who applied, and the issue is a political hot potato with elections due in March.

Some dread the integration of newly arrived Muslims into their mostly Catholic society. "We have no mosques or structures for them. This could lead to more radicalization,'' one government official said, on condition that he isn't named while talks on the refugee plan continue.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has built a razor wire-topped fence on his southern border to keep out migrants, and blamed Germany's decision to welcome more Syrian refugees for his country's security problems.

The EU estimates that two out of every three migrants arrive from conflict areas and could qualify for asylum or some form of protection. That carries important legal obligations because of international laws obliging countries to protect refugees.

Until now, EU institutions have focused on tightening loopholes in Europe's asylum laws and sending funds to countries hardest hit.

The resources of the EU's border agency were trebled, and a naval operation was launched to tackle smuggling in the Mediterranean, where almost 3,000 people, mostly from Africa, have drowned trying to set foot on European soil.

Immigration officers have also being sent to Africa to assess who might be eligible to be sheltered in Europe, and weed out those who are just looking for jobs.

It's a laudable approach, but not one that can respond to a humanitarian crisis. On top of that, member states _ both the rich Western ones or their poorer Eastern neighbours-- can easily change their stance on migration with the winds of popular opinion or a downturn in the economy.

In times of high unemployment it's difficult for a government to justify opening the doors to migrants who will have to be fed, sheltered and eventually look for work.

"We are now experiencing one of the most classical political dilemmas. That is, a conflict between the protection of our borders and solidarity towards the refugees,'' European Council President Donald Tusk said on Monday.

It is a dilemma that Juncker's proposals will face.

Ahead of Wednesday's announcement, France said it would take in 24,000 people needing protection-- a clear endorsement of the scheme.

Britain, which will not take part, announced that it would take in up to 20,000 refugees from outside Europe over five years.

But this approach still has its opponents in the East.

"If Europe continues these policies then tens of millions of people will arrive at the borders,'' Orban said.

Also on HuffPost

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Refugees wave to applauding people in Dortmund, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015, where thousands of migrants and refugees traveled to by trains. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A refugee from Afghanistan gets a kiss while he holds a banner reading 'Thank you Germany' as he waits for transport to an asylum seekers facility in Dortmund, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. Thousands of migrants and refugees arrived in Dortmund by trains. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A migrant girl holds a sign expressing her love to Germany as she arrives at the train station in Saalfeld, central Germany, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. Hundreds of refugees arrived in a train from Munich to be transported by busses to an accomodation centre. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
  • CHRISTOF STACHE via Getty Images
    Migrants wave as they arrive at the main railway station in Munich, southern Germany, on September 06, 2015. Germany on Sunday prepared for more refugees to arrive from Hungary via Austria, a day after thousands were greeted, often by volunteers holding signs that read 'Welcome to Germany'. But calls grew for a European solution to its worst refugee crisis since World War II. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOF STACHE (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
  • JOE KLAMAR via Getty Images
    An Afghan mother holds her baby at a platform at Vienna's Westbahnhof train station in Vienna, Austria, on September 6, 2015 shortly after they have arrived by a train from Hungary.Thousands of migrants and refugees has transited via Vienna where the were welcomed and helped by volunteers in the last couple of days. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
  • JOE KLAMAR via Getty Images
    Diana ,3 years old migrant Afghan girl, plays with a volunteer at a platform at Vienna's Westbahnhof train station in Vienna, Austria, on September 6, 2015 after arriving by a train from Hungary.Thousands of migrants and refugees has transited via Vienna where the were welcomed and helped by volunteers in the last couple of days. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
  • JOE KLAMAR via Getty Images
    Migrant boy smiles while he rests with his parents and siblings at a platform at Vienna's Westbahnhof train station in Vienna, Austria, on September 6, 2015 after they have arrived by a train from Hungary.Thousands of migrants and refugees has transited via Vienna where the were welcomed and helped by volunteers in the last couple of days. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    VIENNA, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 06: A 3-year Maria Nasab who has found after going missing while playing at the station, blows bubbles at Vienna's Westbahnhof train station as refugees wait to board trains for Germany, on September 06, 2015. (Photo by Hasan Tosun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    VIENNA, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 06: Refugees wait at Vienna's Westbahnhof train station to board trains for Germany, on September 06, 2015. (Photo by Hasan Tosun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • JOE KLAMAR via Getty Images
    Migrant men show Victory signs from a train leaving Vienna to Munich at Vienna's Westbahnhof train station in Vienna, Austria, on September 6, 2015 after arriving by a train from Hungary.Thousands of migrants and refugees has transited via Vienna where the were welcomed and helped by volunteers in the last couple of days. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Christopher Furlong via Getty Images
    SZEGED, HUNGARY - SEPTEMBER 06: Migrants and refugees celebrate as they cross the border from Serbia into Hungary along the railway tracks close to the village of Roszke on September 6, 2015 in Szeged, Hungary.After days of confrontation and choas Hungary unexpectedly opened its borders with Austria allowing thousands of migrants to leave the country and travel onto Germany. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    LESBOS ISLAND, GREECE - SEPTEMBER 06: Refugees flash victory sign as they pose for a selfie on the shore of Eftalou beach, north of the port city of Mytilini after crossing the Aegean from Turkey on September 06, 2015 in Lesbos Island, Greece. (Photo by Emin Menguarslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    LESBOS ISLAND, GREECE - SEPTEMBER 06: Refugees arrive the shore of Eftalou beach, north of the port city of Mytilini after crossing the Aegean from Turkey on September 06, 2015 in Lesbos Island, Greece. (Photo by Emin Menguarslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    LESBOS ISLAND, GREECE - SEPTEMBER 06: Refugees pose for a photo on the shore of Eftalou beach, north of the port city of Mytilini after crossing the Aegean from Turkey on September 06, 2015 in Lesbos Island, Greece. (Photo by Emin Menguarslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    LESBOS ISLAND, GREECE - SEPTEMBER 06: Refugees flash victory sign as they pose for a selfie on the shore of Eftalou beach, north of the port city of Mytilini after crossing the Aegean from Turkey on September 06, 2015 in Lesbos Island, Greece. (Photo by Emin Menguarslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Matt Cardy via Getty Images
    SZEGED, HUNGARY - AUGUST 31: A Syrian father celebrates with his daughter crossing the border from Serbia into Hungary close to the village of Roszke on August 31, 2015 near Szeged, Hungary. According to the Hungarian authorities a record number of migrants from many parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia crossed the border from Serbia earlier this week, said to be due in part to the erection of a new fence that is due to be completed at the end of this month. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called Balkans route has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The massive increase, said to be the largest migration of people since World War II, led Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban to order Hungary's army to build a steel and barbed wire security barrier along its entire border with Serbia, after more than 100,000 asylum seekers from a variety of countries and war zones entered the country so far this year. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
  • Matt Cardy via Getty Images
    SZEGED, HUNGARY - AUGUST 29: A migrant couple smile for the camera as they celebrate crossing the border from Serbia into Hungary close to the village of Roszke on August 29, 2015 near Szeged, Hungary. According to the Hungarian authorities a record number of migrants from many parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia crossed the border from Serbia earlier this week, said to be due in part to the erection of a new fence that is due to be completed at the end of this month. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called Balkans route has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The massive increase, said to be the largest migration of people since World War II, led Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban to order Hungary's army to build a steel and barbed wire security barrier along its entire border with Serbia, after more than 100,000 asylum seekers from a variety of countries and war zones entered the country so far this year. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Eight-months-old Maria, smiles to her father Ibrahim as she travels with her mother Yasmin, center, and her four year old brother Mohammed from near of Damascus, Syria, during their trip by train from Salzburg, Austria, to Munich, southern Germany, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, the last stage of their four-months-journey from Syria via Budapest and Vienna to Germany. (AP Photo/ Kerstin Joensson)
  • ROBERT MICHAEL via Getty Images
    Refugees celebrate with leftist sympathizers at a shelter for asylum seekers on August 29, 2015 in Heidenau, eastern Germany. Heidenau, a town of around 16,000 inhabitants near Dresden, has become the focus of Germany's struggle to absorb a vast wave of asylum seekers that is expected to reach a record 800,000 this year. AFP PHOTO / ROBERT MICHAEL (Photo credit should read ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images)
  • ROBERT ATANASOVSKI via Getty Images
    Migrants children wait to enter a camp for registration procedure after crossing the border line between Greece and Macedonia near the town of Gevgelija on September 6, 2015. Some 5,600 people crossed into Macedonia from Greece on September 4, a jump that highlights the ever-rising numbers of migrants moving through Europe, the UN said on September 5. Europe is facing a huge influx on all sides, with nearly 365,000 migrants and refugees having crossed the Mediterranean, often in flimsy boats and at the mercy of ruthless human smugglers, to reach the continent since January, according to fresh figures from the International Organization for Migration. AFP PHOTO / ROBERT ATANASOVSKI (Photo credit should read ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
  • ROBERT ATANASOVSKI via Getty Images
    Migrants cross the border line between Greece and Macedonia near the town of Gevgelija on September 6, 2015. Some 5,600 people crossed into Macedonia from Greece on September 4, a jump that highlights the ever-rising numbers of migrants moving through Europe, the UN said on September 5. Europe is facing a huge influx on all sides, with nearly 365,000 migrants and refugees having crossed the Mediterranean, often in flimsy boats and at the mercy of ruthless human smugglers, to reach the continent since January, according to fresh figures from the International Organization for Migration. AFP PHOTO / ROBERT ATANASOVSKI (Photo credit should read ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    MUNICH, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 6: Refugees who travelled by train to the main railway station 'Munich Hauptbahnhof' leave the train under control by police and enter another one to get to a refugee centre on September 06, 2015 in Munich, Germany. Hundreds of refugees, mainly from Syria and Iraq, arrive in Germany after Hungary has opened his borders for them to travell on to Germany and Austria. (Photo by Joerg Koch/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A migrant girls shows thumb up into the camera after arriving in Dortmund, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. Thousands of migrants and refugees came to Dortmund by trains. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A man forms a heart as he arrives at the train station in Saalfeld, central Germany, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. Hundreds of refugees arrived in a train from Munich to be transported by busses to an accomodation centre. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A Syrian family arrive at the train station in Saalfeld, central Germany, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. Hundreds of refugees arrived in a train to be transported by busses to an accomodation centre. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A father carries his child on his shoulders as they arrive at the main train station in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. Hundreds of refugees arrived in various trains to get first registration as asylum seekers in Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)