BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on other European Union countries on Sunday to take a greater share of the refugees fleeing to the bloc, as her government struggles to cope with a record number of arrivals.
Germany expects the number of asylum seekers it receives to quadruple to about 800,000 in 2015. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the country could handle that number this year, but not over the long term.
Merkel, eager for adequate shelter for the refugees to be in place before winter sets in, said Europe must move fast.
“If Europe has solidarity and we have also shown solidarity towards others, then we need to show solidarity now,” she told reporters in Berlin. “Everything must move quickly.”
Some European governments have refused to take in refugees and resisted EU proposals to agree a common plan to do more to deal with the crisis, which is intensifying due to a surge in migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Merkel was due to meet de Maiziere and other senior figures from her conservatives on Sunday evening to decide how to proceed with the refugees crisis, party sources said.
“We are a country of immigration,” De Maiziere told a news conference in Berlin that was briefly interrupted by two demonstrators who shouted “Stop deportation. Stop deportation.”
“We need migrants because we have too few children,” de Maiziere added. “It is, as ever, a question of the degree.”
He stuck by the 800,000 figure for the number of migrants the governments expects to arrive in Germany this year, though two state premiers said the total could hit 1 million in 2015.
“In the long run, 800,000 is too much for Germany,” de Maiziere later told ARD television. “We’ll manage it this year. But that can’t be the outlook for the long term.”
He and the interior ministers of France and Britain asked for an urgent European meeting to discuss immigration in the next couple of weeks.
Merkel’s spokesman said Germany and a handful of other EU states could not go on absorbing a disproportionate share of refugees, telling reporters: “There will have to be a fairer distribution of refugees, with more solidarity.”
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Saturday Europe’s existing policy for addressing the refugee crisis was “a disgrace”, adding: “Europe threatens to fail over this scandalous handling” of the situation.
The refugee influx is stretching Germany’s social fabric.
The country has witnessed over a hundred arson attacks on asylum shelters. Last weekend, more than 30 police were injured in clashes in the eastern town of Heidenau, near Dresden, when a protest against a refugee shelter got out of hand.
On Saturday, around 5,000 people marched peacefully in Dresden in a show of support for refugees.
Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Robin Pomeroy