Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized for a slow initial response to the Syrian refugee crisis, said Thursday she would take greater action to contain and manage the crisis in Europe, including meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the government of Iran, and providing more money to German cities and municipalities.
“Sixty million refugees – it only takes this one number to understand that we are not facing a German, not a European, but a global challenge,” Ms. Merkel said to a session of the Bundestag, adding that Europe “can only succeed together with our trans-Atlantic partner, the United States, as well as Russia and the states of the region of the Middle and Far East.”
Ms. Merkel made her remarks hours after reaching an agreement with E.U. leaders to pledge at least €1 billion ($1.12 billion) to help house and care for Syrian refugees in the Middle East as “a signal of unity to make progress.” The E.U. money is to be funneled through United Nations agencies.
But some critics argued her definition of progress still needs to be defined.
Gauri van Gulik, the deputy Europe director for Amnesty International, said the European financing package was insufficient.
“Money great, but Europe still pretending #refugeecrisis not here,” Ms. van Gulik wrote on Twitter. “Keeping people out is not a strategy.”
The European summit, critics say, has done little except toss €1 billion at a multi-billion-euro crisis and force through mechanisms for taking in 120,000 refugees from Italy and Greece.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees also criticized the European Union for not doing enough to accept refugees.
“UNHCR is disappointed that, notwithstanding relocation, no further measures have been proposed to create more legal pathways for refugees to reach safety in Europe,” the U.N. refugee agency said in a statement. “UNHCR urges a substantial and rapid increase in legal opportunities for refugees to access the EU, including enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification, private sponsorship, and humanitarian and student visas.”
Sarah Wagenknecht, deputy floor leader of the Left Party, was also disappointed with the Brussel results. “What is now touted as a great result of yesterday’s summit — that we’ll provide €1 billion in contributions — is less than a drop in the bucket, that is ridiculous,” she told parliamentarians after Ms. Merkel’s speech.
Even Volker Kauder, parliamentary group leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union party and its sister party, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, told parliamentarians that “maybe the West should have started talking to Assad earlier.”
The talks in Brussels, which went into the early hours of Thursday morning, pitted the governments of central Europe, largely opposed to taking refugees, against Germany and France after the two countries on Tuesday imposed refugee quotas on the 28-nation bloc.