By Michelle Martin and Michael Shields
BERLIN/ZURICH (Reuters) - Germany appealed on Sunday for a rapid return to "orderly procedures" in dealing with Europe's migrant crisis, as the continent's most powerful nation acknowledged it could scarcely cope with thousands of asylum seekers arriving daily.
A week after Chancellor Angela Merkel effectively opened German borders to asylum seekers, one senior minister said the country had reached its limits. Bild newspaper reported that Berlin wants to reintroduce frontier controls temporarily, affecting arrivals from Austria first.
Germany has halted train traffic from Austria, a spokeswoman for Austrian rail company OeBB said on Sunday. She said the head of the German rail company told his Austrian counterpart of the decision.
Amid political bickering among European governments, the crisis claimed yet more lives - 28 migrants drowned off a Greek island on Sunday when their boat sank, the coastguard said.
The Red Cross praised Merkel for offering an open-arms welcome to those at the end the arduous and dangerous journey by sea and land, saying she had taken a lead in the crisis that has divided the European Union.
But Germany, Europe's largest and richest economy, has become a magnet for many people fleeing war and poverty in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Police said around 13,000 migrants arrived in the southern city of Munich alone on Saturday, and another 3,000 on Sunday morning.
Berlin made clear it needed help from EU partners. "It's true: the European lack of action in the refugee crisis is now pushing even Germany to the limit of its ability," Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who is also vice-chancellor, told the website of Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.
With large numbers of migrants stuck in squalid and chaotic conditions on European borders, or trudging along the side of motorways, Merkel last weekend stopped enforcing the EU's "Dublin" rules under which asylum seekers should register in the first member state they arrive in.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere defended her decision but signaled a firmer stand before he meets his EU counterparts to try to heal the rift over who will offer homes to the hundreds of thousands escaping the Syrian civil war and other conflicts.
"It was the right decision to help many refugees in an exceptional humanitarian situation and to prevent the dire situation from escalating further but we need to quickly return to orderly procedures now," he told Der Tagesspiegel.
Most asylum seekers are refusing to stay in the poorer southern European countries where they arrive, such as Greece, and are instead making their way to Germany or Sweden where they anticipate a warmer welcome. Germans have welcomed them with cheers and volunteers are flooding in to assist them.
But de Maiziere signaled this cannot go on. "We can't allow refugees to freely choose where they want to stay - that's not the case anywhere in the world," he said.
"It also can't be our duty to pay benefits laid out in German law to refugees who have been allocated to one EU country and then come to Germany anyway," he added.
The German government was not immediately available to comment on the Bild report.
RED CROSS PRAISE
Peter Maurer, president of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, praised Berlin. "Above all German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken on a leadership role and is helping in an unbureaucratic and quick way," he told the Swiss paper SonntagsZeitung.
Maurer also expressed his disquiet after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared he would use a newly-built fence to close the border with Serbia to migrants on Sept. 15, and that "rebellious" migrants would be arrested.
"Humanitarian work can in no case be criminalized, not in Hungary or anywhere else," he said. "I find it dangerous when a European country drifts in this direction."
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann has likened Orban's treatment of refugees to the Nazis' deportation of Jews and others to concentration camps. Budapest responded by accusing him of conducting "a campaign of lies" against Hungary.
This tit-for-tat illustrated the rift within Europe.
Interior ministers from the EU's 28 member states are meeting in Brussels on Monday to discuss European Commission proposals to redistribute about 160,000 asylum seekers across the bloc. Central European countries, however, reject the idea of compulsory quotas.
"It is impossible to retreat," Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Sunday. "We are helping, we are ready to help, but on a voluntary basis. The quotas won’t work."
Meanwhile, the migrants continued to risk all on the journey north. The Greek coastguard said the 28 drowned off the island of Farmakonisi in what was thought to be the largest recorded death toll from any single accident in Greek waters since the crisis began.
In the space of 90 minutes, a Reuters photographer saw 10 dinghies packed with refugees arriving from Turkey on the Greek island of Lesbos, just as caretaker Prime Minister Vasiliki Thanou was calling for a comprehensive EU policy to deal with the crisis.
Further up the refugee route, 8,500 migrants entered Macedonia from Greece between Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, the United Nations refugee agency said.
Austrian authorities said they were expecting thousands of new arrivals on Sunday - many in the past have headed straight on to Germany.
(Additional reporting by Jens Hack, Michele Kambas, Robert Muller, Bardh Krasniqi and Alkis Konstantinidis; writing by David Stamp, editing by William Hardy)