Europe stumbles towards a migrant plan

Katya Adler
Europe editor
@BBCkatyaadleron Twitter

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image copyrightReuters
image captionThousands have been crossing the border from Hungary into Austria in recent days

There was a sense of grim determination about the crowd of cold and tired refugees and other migrants we met crossing the border one damp and windy night this week from Hungary into Austria.

No euphoria. No desperation, such as we've seen at so many European borders over the last months, but more a sense of quiet purpose.

The young men and families we spoke to were passing through what has become a relatively efficient people's pipeline established on the ground from southern, into central and onto northern Europe.

EU leaders may be in disarray over what to do next but in the meantime - for now - chaos on the ground has given way to an orderly means of transporting migrants from country to country.

One 19-year-old told us it had taken him five days to get from Turkey to Austria, passing through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary along the way.

He still hoped to reach Germany, to join the Syrian community there, which is growing larger by the day.

But this is no long-term solution to Europe's migration conundrum.

image copyrightReuters
image captionMost migrants aim to reach Germany, where there is a growing Syrian community

Europe's prime ministers and heads of state will discuss that at their emergency meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

A quick or easy fix will be impossible to find and the meeting is likely to be fiery but leaders know they have to stumble towards some sort of plan or risk the unravelling of the EU itself.

Look at the anger of Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic forced on Tuesday at a meeting of European interior ministers to accept their share of 120,000 asylum seekers who will be re-located across the continent.

The UK has exercised its right to opt-out of the scheme altogether, which has also irritated European colleagues.

Incandescent over the whole migrant crisis, Hungary's outspoken Prime Minister, Victor Orban has taken matters into his own hands, putting up razor wire fences and introducing a new law allowing the army to use rubber bullets and tear gas to deter migrants.

He wants the EU to close its borders completely to irregular migration including those applying for asylum.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionHungary has taken a hard line, attempting to stop the passage of migrants

EU leaders will discuss how to tighten the control of European borders.

They'll also debate a workable EU asylum policy, the more efficient deportation of economic migrants, defining who is a refugee, an asylum seeker or economic migrant, the better integration of refugees and their families already here and sending significant aid abroad to improve living conditions closer to people's home countries so they shouldn't be tempted to come to Europe in the first place.

Decisions and debates tomorrow and in the months to come will affect all of our lives.

Endre Sik is the director of the Centre for Refugee and Migration Studies in Budapest.

He told me in 10 years' time, we will look back and see this as a moment that changed Europe - its general landscape, its politics and its economics.

There's no turning back now from mass migration Europe, he says. This is an unprecedented social phenomenon.

Austria's government agrees. Its country has plenty of experience of housing refugees or those seeking a better life - whether after the end of communism in 1989 or during the Balkan Wars in the 1990s.

image copyrightEPA
image captionSome EU members are dismayed at a scheme to relocate thousands of migrants

But a high-ranking government official told me the difference then was that those people expected to return home as soon as possible.

It's thought that will not be the case for Syrian and other refugees escaping to Europe from conflict in the Middle East or Africa.

And Austria will find it hard to cope, he said because by law, once granted asylum, people can bring over the rest of their family to live with them.

In 2010 we had 11,000 applications for asylum. This year it looks likely to be 80,000 or more and Austria is a small country, he said emphatically.

Where is the sense of solidarity, the all for one and one for all sentiment the EU is meant to espouse? he asked.

Austria, along with Germany, Sweden and Italy are pushing for the introduction of a fixed EU quota system, to automatically divide up the number of asylum seekers more equally across Europe.

image copyrightReuters
image captionOne expert said the mass migration was an unprecedented social phenomenon

That will be a hard, if not impossible sell, judging by the consternation caused by Tuesday's attempt to divide up a mere 120,000 asylum applicants.

It's thought the number of asylum applications made in Europe by the end of the year could reach around 1.3 million.

Those desperate to come here wont wait for the finessing of Europe's migration and refugee policies.

They and their plea for help have arrived on our doorstep - marching down our motorways, pushing their way onto our trains and buses hoping for a new life in our towns and cities.

For the first time since it began its surveys (more than four decades ago) Eurobarometer says immigration is now the number one concern for people across the continent.

Europe is floundering in a new reality, that is dividing its leaders but demands a clear answer.