The head of the German agency responsible for handling applications for asylum has quit after weeks of mounting criticism of the way the government has handled the migrant crisis.
Manfred Schmidt resigned days after Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted to party allies that the Federal Office for Migration, a part of the Interior Ministry, had failed to deal with a rising backlog of applications for asylum as the country experiences its biggest inflow of people since the 1940s. There are nearly 300,000 applications outstanding, according to Der Spiegel. The failure of Schmidt’s office to process them quickly enough is causing huge logistic and–increasingly–financial problems with the local and regional governments who have to accommodate and integrate the arrivals.
Schmidt’s resignation is the latest sign of stress among European governments struggling to come to grips with the crisis. Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said this week he now expects the total number of arrivals to swell to 1 million this year, up from an earlier estimate of 800,000.
The crisis has put the existence of one of the E.U.’s greatest achievements–the abolition of most internal border controls under the so-called “Schengen agreement”–in grave doubt. Germany, at the heart of the Schengen zone, has reinstated selective controls on its borders with neighboring Austria and the Czech Republic in response to the flood of migrants. Most are coming from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan via the so-called ‘Balkan route’, which leads from Greece up through Serbia to Hungary.
The E.U.’s failure to coordinate a comprehensive response to the crisis was on full view again Wednesday, when Hungarian police used tear gas and batons to repel migrants seeking to cross over the border from Serbia. The U.N.’s secretary-general Ban Ki Moon described the police’s action as “unacceptable”.
The E.U. parliament Thursday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a plan by the Commission, the E.U.’s executive branch, to redistribute 160,000 migrants across the E.U. according to a system of quotas. However, the real decision-making power lies with national governments, several of whom reject the plan.
Hungary has now closed its border with Serbia by means of a huge but still porous barbed-wire fence. On Wednesday, a court convicted an Iraqi youth of entering the country illegally, the first such conviction since the crisis escalated earlier in the summer.
With Hungary closing its border, the migrants are now diverting from Serbia through Croatia (the most recent country to join the E.U.), despite concerns that the area around the Serbo-Croat border may still contain landmines dating back to the Balkan wars of the 1990s.