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World Merkel calls on Europe for joint responsibility on refugee crisis

A refugee family from Iraq walks further in to Austria at the Austria-Hungary border on Sunday.

VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP/Getty Images

Refugees desperate to find sanctuary in Europe climbed through windows and fought for space on trains headed north Sunday as border closures and plunging temperatures increased tensions among thousands in a desperate rush to keep moving.

Scuffles broke out in the Croatian border town of Tovarnik when hundreds of people surged toward a train they hoped would take them to Austria. Police tried to hold back the crowd, but were overwhelmed as refugees tried to climb through the windows of the already packed carriages.

Hungary, which closed its border with Serbia on Sept. 15, erected another steel barrier at the Beremend border crossing from Croatia to try to slow the flow of refugees. But they kept coming.

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The sense of desperation increased for refugees as days of intense heat gave way to rain.

"Unfortunately, we sleep here on the ground without anything. It was very cold," said Muhammad Dakiri, a Syrian asylum seeker in Tovarnik. "Suddenly the weather has turned to cold and raining. We couldn't sleep well because in an hour or half an hour we wake up because we're feeling cold."

Bitterly divided European leaders will seek to find a credible response to the continent's worst migration crisis since the Second World War at an emergency summit this week.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on her peers on Sunday to accept joint responsibility.

"Germany is willing to help. But it is not just a German challenge, but one for all of Europe," Ms. Merkel said. "Europe must act together and take on responsibility. Germany can't shoulder this task alone."

Striking a more skeptical tone than in previous weeks, Ms. Merkel also warned that Germany could not shelter those who were moving for economic reasons rather than to flee war or persecution.

"We are a big country. We are a strong country. But to make out as if we alone can solve all the social problems of the world would not be realistic," she said.

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European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs European Union summits, said on Twitter on Sunday that the EU needed to help Syrian refugees find a better life closer at home.

That will be one of the topics of discussion for Wednesday's summit in Brussels as hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants brave the seas and trek across the impoverished Balkan peninsula to reach more affluent countries in northern Europe.

The 28-member bloc has struggled to find a unified response to the crisis, which has tested many of its newer members in the East that are unaccustomed to large-scale immigration.

Overwhelmed by some 25,000 refugees this week, Croatia, the EU's newest member state, has been sending them north by bus and train to Hungary, which has waved them on to Austria.

The influx of refugees, most of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, has led to bitter recriminations between European governments while the temporary closure of national borders has undermined one of the most tangible achievements of the Union.

"If you don't cope with this crisis, then I think the EU will fall apart," said a senior EU official.

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The official said European leaders would discuss longer-term strategies for dealing with the crisis, particularly increasing co-operation with Turkey and the countries bordering Syria to keep the millions of refugees at home. Mr. Tusk said more aid to the World Food Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would also be on the agenda.

EU interior ministers, meeting on Tuesday, are expected to agree on a voluntary relocation scheme to redistribute 160,000 refugees from front-line states across the EU, a fraction of the total entering Europe.

French President François Hollande said he wanted the interior ministers to address the most difficult aspects of the crisis by Tuesday so that EU leaders could focus exclusively on financing at Wednesday's summit.

"I really wish all these issues to be solved by the ministers' reunion," Mr. Hollande said on Sunday during a state visit to Morocco.

Associated Press with a report from Reuters

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