Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Hungary has quietly closed its borders to nearly all asylum seekers, which human rights advocates say violates international laws and is stranding thousands of refugee families in Serbia.

NPR interviewed asylum seekers, refugee advocates and a lawyer all with direct knowledge of the near closure and the resulting panic and despair. They report that since Jan. 22, Hungary is allowing only one asylum seeker per day to cross from Serbia into each of its two "transit zones."

It's said that time heals all wounds. But not for people afflicted with dementia like Gerda Noack. The 93-year-old German woman's memory is fading, as is her eyesight.

The losses scare her. On a recent morning at the AlexA Residence for Senior Citizens in Dresden, where she lives, Noack sounded anxious as she asked, over and over: "Where am I supposed to go?"

After five hours of uncharacteristic sniping and emotion, Germany's Social Democrats at a party congress in Bonn on Sunday voted 362-279 to enter into formal talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel to form a new German government.

It's a vital step to ending a nearly four-month long political crisis in Germany after last September's elections failed to give any party – including Merkel's conservatives – a majority. Previous attempts by the chancellor to join with other German political parties in a governing coalition failed.

Meet the new German government, same as the old German government.

At least that's the plan of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her political allies, who Friday crafted a deal aimed at ending Germany's 3 1/2-month political crisis.

It may appear an odd strategy, given that German voters gave the previous government the boot.

All three parties making up the last grand coalition — the Christian Democrats (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) — ended up with historically low returns in last September's federal elections.

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