Tuesday, June 18, 2019 | 8:57 PM

Amid refugee policy discord, Merkel urges European unity

Thursday, June 14, 2018

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the European Union (EU)’s member countries to overcome their differences and take a unified approach to the bloc’s refugee crisis.

Merkel warned on Wednesday against any state pursuing a unilateral policy regarding the crisis and said Europe needed a unified approach that addressed the interests of each and every member state.

“It’s very, very important to me that Germany also does not act unilaterally, but that everything we do be orderly, discussed, with agreements with others, so that we have a really unified European approach,” Merkel told reporters at a news conference in Berlin.

‘Something of a litmus test’

“Europe must stick together, and the interests of every country must be considered,” she added. “It is a challenge when Europe is in a very fragile situation. For me, the question of how we deal with the migration question is something of a litmus test for the future and the unity of Europe.”

The German leader made the comments after Italy and Malta turned away a rescue ship carrying hundreds of refugees on the Mediterranean Sea earlier this week. France later rebuked Italy for “irresponsibility” over the matter, and Italy hit back hard, publicly displaying one of the most serious disagreements between two EU member states.

Some 629 refugees, including children and pregnant women, on the humanitarian ship were refused entry and left waiting in international waters between the two countries for over 30 hours with limited food and drink supplies and in bad weather conditions, facing potential death.

Spain ultimately took in the ship.

Europe has launched a string of schemes to tackle its worst refugee crisis since World War II. The continent has been hit since 2014 by an unprecedented influx of refugees fleeing conflict-ridden zones in North Africa and the Middle East, in particular Syria.

Over the past five years, more than 600,000 refugees have reached Italy by risking their lives on rickety human smuggler boats in the sea. Some 500,000 of them are still staying in the country.

In her Wednesday remarks, Merkel acknowledged that Italy did not feel it was receiving enough support from other EU states to tackle the refugee crisis.

Merkel herself faced criticism, including from within her own conservative party, when she adopted an open-door policy toward refugees in 2015. That policy also saw the rise of the right-wing, anti-refugee Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, sapping her party’s strength at the German parliament.