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Britain announces it will take in 20,000 refugees as Germany, Austria reach tipping point

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LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron says Britain will re-settle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps in Turkey, Jordan and Syria over the next five years.

The figure represents a vast expansion of Britain’s refugee program, a change signaled by Cameron last week.

He told Parliament Monday that Britain has a moral responsibility to act, citing shocking images in recent days. Cameron said vulnerable children and orphans will be given priority.

New arrivals will be given five-year “humanitarian protection” visas upon arrival in Britain.

VIENNA, Austria — The massive flood of refugees in Europe is pushing Germany and Austria to a tipping point.

Thousands of refugees have poured into the two countries in just the past two days, trying to escape the bombings, terrorists and dire conditions ravaging their homelands.

More than 16,000 have streamed into Austria since Saturday, Burgenland state police spokesman Wolfgang Bachkoenig said Monday.

“We must now, step by step, go from emergency measures to a normality that is humane and complies with the law,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said.

Virtually all the refugees who entered Austria continued on to Germany, Bachkoenig said.

But even Germany, a country with a long history of helping refugees, said it can’t keep taking in asylum seekers at the current pace. More than 17,500 migrants arrived in just the city of Munich over the weekend, police said.

“The great helpfulness that Germany has shown in these last weeks and months should not be worn thin,” the Interior Ministry said. It added that Germany’s ability to continue help is contingent on other countries stepping up.

But on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany is pledging an additional 3 billion Euros to the migrant crisis. She said Germany “is of course willing to accept more refugees,” but called on other European countries to take more in.

Moments after Merkel spoke, French President Francois Hollande said France is ready to take on more responsibility.

He said the European Commission will propose distributing 120,000 refugees over the next two years, of which France would take in 24,000.

“We will do so because it is the principle to which France is committed to,” Hollande said.

‘We went through a torture’

The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates at least 366,402 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year.

At least 2,800 have died or disappeared during the journey. Those who make the crossing face uncertain futures in European nations, which differ in their approach to asylum seekers.

Many of the migrants arrive with harrowing tales of crossing the Mediterranean, then walking from Greece through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and finally into Austria.

Austria’s border with Hungary remains open to potential refugees, Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman Alexander Marakovits said Sunday as packed buses and trains continued to arrive.

Many Austrians brought food and water and cheered for the refugees pouring onto the platform at Vienna’s train station.

One man who recently arrived in Austria told CNN of the family’s difficult journey through Hungary.

“We went through a torture,” he said, standing next to his two daughters. “We walked 110 kilometers (68 miles) with the children. They didn’t allow us to take cars or trains.”

But he said the Hungarian people “were very nice.” And the situation got better when the family arrived in Austria.

“We are comfortable here, and we like the people and the government of Austria.”

Yet of the thousands who arrived in Austria this weekend, only a dozen or so have opted to apply for asylum there, the country’s Interior Ministry said. Many want to go farther, particularly to Germany.

Attacks against refugees on the rise

But the dangers don’t stop once refugees reach Germany.

At least 340 attacks have taken place on refugee camps in Germany this year, the Interior Ministry said. Most of the incidents are believed to be fueled by radical right-wing, anti-immigrant sentiment.

The attacks include vandalism, hate speech and arson, as well as violent attacks on people. At least 38 violent assaults have been recorded this year, up from 28 last year.

And on Monday, another suspicious fire broke out at a house for asylum seekers in Rottenburg am Neckar, police said.

Five people were injured — three from smoke inhalation, two from jumping out of the building’s first and second floors. None of the rooms are inhabitable anymore.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

Border control

European Union countries have an open-border policy allows the free movement of people between member states. But countries such as Hungary and Austria are clamping down on the flow of migrants.

Hungary’s right-wing government, trying to stop the flood of migrants, has erected a barbed-wire fence along its more than 160-kilometer (100-mile) border with Serbia to prevent them from crossing there. Serbia is not an EU country.

In Austria, the Interior Ministry warned that it is illegal to drive across the border to Hungary, pick up a group of migrants and transport them back to Austria.

But some are doing exactly that.

A group of volunteers from Austria, Germany and Slovakia — organized on Facebook — formed a convoy of almost 200 cars to shuttle migrants from the Hungarian border.

Erzsebet Szabo in Vienna is one of the volunteers who helped ferry migrants.

“We think that around 380 people came with us,” she said Monday morning. “We are very happy.”

Szabo said she’s not afraid of getting arrested. After all, she said, even that fate wouldn’t compare to what the refugees have endured.

“It’s a global problem,” Szabo said. “It’s very important that we, altogether, give this big sign that refugees — the people that need our help and come from the war — have our solidarity and support.”