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Germany introduces 'temporary' border controls amid record refugee influx


Germany temporarily introduced border controls on Sunday in a bid to stem the flow of thousands of refugees arriving every day as senior ministers in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government said the crisis was pushing Germany to its limits.


Europe's largest and richest economy has been a magnet for many people fleeing war and poverty in Syria and other parts of the Middle East and Africa. Police said around 13,000 migrants arrived in Munich alone on Saturday, and around another 4,500 had arrived already on Sunday.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said refugees should not be able to choose where to settle and Germany needed to return to "orderly procedures" on its frontiers.

"The great willingness to help that Germany has shown in recent weeks - by full-time employees and especially by the many thousands of volunteers - must not be overstrained," he said at a news conference in Berlin.

Border controls 'a U-turn in German policy'

The decision to close the border was made in a conference call at 17.30 CET (1530 GMT) on Saturday between German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Bavarian state Premier Horst Seehofer and Merkel's chief of staff Peter Altmaier.

The German government has allowed tens of thousands of asylum seekers camped out in Hungary to travel through Austria to Germany over the last week as it sought to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

"The border controls that have been introduced are not the ultimate solution. We need a range of other steps. But it is a very important signal to the rest of the world and also to people in Germany," Seehofer said at a news conference in Munich.

His interior minister Joachim Herrmann said train traffic from Austria to Germany had been stopped for 12 hours from 5 p.m. (1500 GMT).

Strain showing

Tensions are rising in Germany, where states have complained about the growing burden of coping with Europe's worst refugee crisis in decades.

Seehofer called for a doubling of the 4 billion euros in federal support that German states and municipalities are due to receive this year and next to help them cope with the flood of refugees, saying the situation had changed "very dramatically" in the past week.

He also called on Berlin to take over management of the distribution of asylum seekers across Germany and demanded that a "refugee summit" scheduled for Sept. 24 between the federal government and states be brought forward to this week.

Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt told magazine Focus that Germany had "reached breaking point" and Economy Minister Gabriel said Germany's federal states and municipalities were struggling to keep pace with the new arrivals.

"The European lack of action in the refugee crisis is now pushing even Germany to the limit of its ability," Gabriel told newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

"We are prepared to continue helping - even disproportionately," said Ralf Stegner, deputy chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD), junior coalition partner to Merkel's conservatives. "But without European solidarity and a fair system of distribution in the whole of Europe even big and rich Germany can't manage this task," he told Reuters.

Interior ministers from the EU's 28 member states are meeting in Brussels on Monday to discuss proposals from the EU's executive Commission to redistribute about 160,000 asylum seekers across the bloc.

German EU Commissioner Guenter Oettinger told newspaper Welt am Sonntag that Germany should reduce benefits for asylum seekers to reduce the numbers coming across its borders.

"We need a certain harmonisation of the cash benefits for asylum seekers in Europe because if the difference within the EU is too big, it could create the wrong incentives," he added.

German national rail operator Deutsche Bahn reserved one long-distance train from Munich to Berlin on Sunday for asylum seekers, Christoph Hillenbrand, senior administrator of the Upper Bavaria district around Munich, said.

From Monday several hundred seats will be reserved for refugees on several regular train services from the Bavarian capital, he said, adding that there would also be special train services to North Rhine-Westphalia and northern Germany on Monday to free up some emergency accommodation in Munich.

Since Aug. 31 around 63,000 refugees have arrived in Munich, where many migrants arrive after travelling through the Balkan states, and Hillenbrand said the city could not continue taking in such numbers.

"It's not feasible for us to take in the equivalent of a small town's population every day. It's simply not doable logistically any more," he said.


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