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Europe Fractures As the Migrant Crisis Worsens

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The U.N. warned on March 1 of a looming humanitarian crisis in Greece, where over 100,000 migrants arrived in the first two months of 2016 and police clashed with asylum seekers at the Macedonian border on Feb. 29. But European leaders are still struggling to agree on a unified policy to tackle the problem ahead of an anticipated springtime surge in migration. A $760 million emergency aid package proposed by the European Commission on March 2 may help, but the bloc remains sharply divided on a long-term plan:


German Chancellor Angela Merkel called an emergency summit for March 7 to urge E.U. leaders both to accept more migrants and to pay Turkey to care for the millions of Syrians in its territory. But Western Europe has other concerns. France, wary of security after the Paris attacks, began dismantling the Calais migrant camp known as the Jungle. In the U.K., the government frets that any positive action on migrants will affect its June referendum on E.U. membership. There are fears the Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel across 26 countries, could be suspended absent a coherent plan.


Hungary is planning a referendum of its own on the E.U.’s migrant quotas, while Austria defied Europe’s leaders in February by placing a cap of just 80 per day on asylum requests made from Slovenia. This led to bottlenecks along the Balkans, with Croatia and Slovenia limiting entries and Macedonia shutting its border with Greece completely on Feb. 29.


The German leader is now under huge pressure from both her own party and right-wing opponents to alter her stance on refugees and impose limits. Merkel hopes her summit will produce results, but German voters will get to register their feelings on the crisis–and their embattled leader–in a trio of state elections on March 13.


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