Austria threatened to reimpose controls on its Hungarian border and Britain considered adding security around the French port of Calais on Wednesday as divided EU leaders prepared to debate how to stem a flood of desperate migrants.
On the eve of a Brussels summit looking for ways to spread the load of receiving hundreds of thousands fleeing poverty and war in Africa and the Middle East, the frontier rows across the 28-nation bloc were a reminder that the stakes are high.
“Migration … is a transformative challenge,” one senior EU diplomat said, noting the strain it was putting on unity among neighbours where years of economic drift have bolstered anti-immigration parties, even as turmoil to the south has driven growing numbers to risk perilous crossings of the Mediterranean.
Austria’s warning about reinstating checks on its passport-free border with Hungary follows a refusal by Budapest to take in asylum seekers sent back to it by other member states under EU rules. Hungary says it no longer has the means to deal with a sharp increase in people streaming over its Balkan border – many from the Middle East, including via crisis-wracked Greece.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who will also use the summit to launch demands to limit free access for other EU citizens ahead of referendum on EU membership, played down any tension with France over thousands of migrants massed around Calais hoping to reach Britain by ferry or the Channel Tunnel.
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