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EU nations must not refuse Muslim refugees, says Angela Merkel

Closure of Balkan migrant trail and EU deal with Turkey have driven down arrivals from Middle East and Afghanistan
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, talks with tv-journalists Tina Hassel and Thomas Baumann during her summer interview with German public TV chain ARD on Sunday (AFP)
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.

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 as many as 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.

Germany to absorb new arrivals

BAMF chief Frank-Juergen Weise told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Germany's healthy economy and improvements to refugee services over the last year meant that the country was well-placed to absorb new arrivals, particularly as their numbers have dropped off.

"We are preparing for between 250,000 and 300,000 refugees this year," he said.
 
Nearly 1.1 million asylum seekers arrived in Germany, Europe's top economic power, last year, putting enormous strain on the country's bureaucracy to process claims and testing confidence in Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left coalition government.
 
The closure of the so-called Balkan migrant trail and a controversial EU deal with Turkey to keep migrants from reaching Greece - a main entry point into the bloc - has driven down arrivals from the Middle East and Afghanistan.
 
Weise said his agency had made major strides in working through a large backlog in asylum claims but that it would not manage to clear the remaining 530,000 cases by the end of the year.
 
He said integrating those allowed to stay in Germany into the labour market would be a "lengthy and costly" process.
 
Weise was nevertheless upbeat about the long-term prospects.  
 
"We can do it," he said, echoing Merkel's rallying cry during the crisis.
 
"A lot of what was going badly in the beginning [one year ago] we've eventually managed to do pretty well. And the economy in Germany is so good, thank God, that we can afford it."
 
Public sentiment is nevertheless 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 next September or October. 
 
Bild am Sonntag cited a poll by independent opinion research group Emnid showing 50 percent of respondents opposed another four-year term for Merkel, while 42 percent said they wanted her to stay in office.
 
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye edition
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