Germany has agreed to take in 1,500 migrants from the Greek islands after a fire left thousands homeless last week, German government and coalition sources have said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer have reportedly come to the agreement, with sources saying Seehofer had made the proposal and Merkel had agreed.
More than 12,000 people, mostly refugees from Afghanistan, Africa and Syria, were left without shelter, proper sanitation or access to food and water after a fire tore through the overcrowded Moria migrant camp on Lesbos last Wednesday.
There are around 30,000 refugees and migrants on the Greek islands in total.
However, Germany’s top-selling newspaper Bild daily claims that Athens is concerned that sending migrants to Germany could cause a chain reaction on other Greek islands.
With Greek officials accusing migrants of setting fire to the camp to prompt a move, they fear that by appearing to give in to demands of the protesting refugees, migrant camps on other islands could copy the alleged actions of those on Lesbos.
‘What we need is a solid plan that doesn’t pose any further problems, but actually helps the people. Various options are currently being explored, ‘ a member of the Greek government told Bild.
Greek police have detained five migrants over a fire that razed the Moria refugee camp to the ground, the government said on Tuesday, as thousands of the displaced people refused to move to a new facility and demanded to leave Lesbos island.
In 2015, Merkel made the decision to keep borders open as people fled war-torn regions such as Syria and Iraq, allowing millions of migrants to enter Germany.
Her decision divided many, even leading to a far-right party – the AfD – gaining a meaningful presence in parliament for the first time since the Nazi regime.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reportedly agreed to take 1,500 migrants from the Greek islands. Pictured: Protesters on Friday is Lesbos hold up a sign that says ‘Germany! Please help us’ pleading for help from Germany, a favoured destination for many migrants and refugees who arrive in Greece
A fire broke out in the overcrowded Moria Refugee Camp on Lesbos last Wednesday, destroying large parts of 12,000 refugees’ accommodations, leaving many without shelter
The government sources told Reuters news agency that Germany would home migrants whose asylum applications have already been accepted, adding that they would not only take refugees from Lesbos.
Leading politicians from the parties in Germany’s ruling coalition government had agreed to try and reach an agreement by Wednesday on how many migrants they would accept in addition to the 100-150 unaccompanied minors they had already promised to house.
Berlin has been facing growing calls from regional and local politicians who have said they would take in people from the camp if the federal government allowed them to.
On Monday, the German government said it was in talks to take families with children that had been left homeless by the fire.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin that the help for the minors was ‘a first step’, but added that more needed to be done to alleviate the suffering of the 12,000 who had lost their temporary homes in the fire.
‘Talks are now ongoing in the federal government about how else Germany can help, what other substantial contribution our country can make,’ he said, adding that a ‘second step’ would focus on taking in families with children.
On Monday he called the apparent arson attack a ‘humanitarian emergency, a one-off emergency situation.’
Seibert declined to put a number of how many families Germany may take in, but Bild said Merkel was prepared to welcome ‘hundreds of children and their families, perhaps even thousands’, citing government sources.
Vice-Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said that Germany – being Europe’s biggest country and economy – ‘must take a substantial second step’ to help the migrants in Moria.
The decision to allow more to enter is expected to once again polarise many.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pictured yesterday, has reportedly agreed to accommodate 1,500 migrants from the Greek islands after a fire left thousands homeless. In 2015, Merkel’s decision to leave the borders open to hundreds of thousands of migrants was a contentious one, and the latest decision will likely stir up past tensions
German Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer, pictured, had reportedly made the proposal to take the migrants, and Merkel had agreed
Today, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis repeated a call for more help from the European Union, which has struggled to find a unified approach to the migrant crisis at its borders, saying it was time for ‘tangible solidarity’ from Europe.
On Tuesday, five ‘young foreign nationals’ were arrested in Lesbos in connection with the fire, Civil Protection Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis said according to Greek state news agency ANA.
He added a sixth suspect is believed to be ‘at large.’ A local police source, who refused to be named, said that person had already fled the island.
Greek authorities believe the fire was deliberately lit by camp occupants after quarantine measures were imposed following the discovery of COVID cases on the site, but the incident has put the migrant issue firmly back on the European agenda.
Families, children, young men and pregnant women have been left wandering aimlessly since a blaze ripped through the camp on the night of September 8, forcing its 12,000 occupants to sleep rough in abandoned buildings, on roadsides and even rooftops.
‘The camp was burned by refugees and migrants who wanted to blackmail the government in order to be rapidly transferred from the island (to the continent),’ Stelios Petsas, the Greek government’s spokesman, told reporters in Athens.
He gave no further details. Greece’s migrations minister last week made similar accusations, even as an investigation has yet to conclude.
Protesters march in front of the parliament during a rally in support of the migrants on the island of Lesbos, in Athens on Saturday
Refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp are seen inside a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos on Monday
Fire almost completely destroyed Moria, the largest migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, leaving more than 12,000 asylum seekers without shelter
Authorities are erecting a new camp of white tents in haste near the eastern port-village of Panagiouda as exhaustion, hunger and fear set in, and locals look on with trepidation.
Many refugees refuse to go there, fearing they will just be forgotten inside while others are reluctantly making their way to the site.
The new camp ‘seems harsh, with its direct sunlight and no shade. But I’m entering tomorrow as I have no choice,’ said Pariba, an Afghan woman.
Inside the site, which is closed to the press, Malik, an Algerian migrant, told AFP by phone that he had settled there with his wife and five children.
‘There’s nothing in the camp, no shower, no mattresses. There is only one meal per day, and they give us a carton with six bottles of water,’ said the French teacher.
On Tuesday, the Greek migration ministry said roughly 800 of the 12,000 Moria migrants had been housed at the site. Among them, 21 have tested positive for coronavirus.
A man picks his way between the destroyed remains of tents inside the Moria camp, after the fire had burned out
Refugees and migrants sleep outside a supermarket on the road leading to Mytilene town on the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday
Refugees and migrants from the destroyed camp of Moria throw back tear gas fired by riot police during clashes, on the island of Lesbos, Greece. The migrant camp burned down earlier this week, leaving thousands homeless
He added he was currently living alongside some 200 refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and African countries.
In photos by one of his fellow camp members who wanted to remain anonymous, groups of migrants are seen waiting for food and water in scorching heat, some wearing masks.
Residents nearby were looking on with a wary eye, calling on European countries to lend a helping hand.
‘We’re afraid. Ninety percent of the people here are against the new camp, and all of us, we want them to leave the island,’ said Savvas Afentoulis, 70, sitting at a cafe in Panagiouda. ‘Greece can’t handle alone the situation, the EU has to find a solution.’
Five years after the arrival in Europe of over a million asylum seekers, many fleeing war in Iraq and Syria, the question on how the bloc should share out its refugee responsibilities remains a sensitive one.
Opposition from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia over taking on refugees has been a major stumbling block in the EU’s attempt to reform its migration and asylum policies.
Even in Germany, politicians are wary of seeing the same scenes of huge migrant arrivals than in 2015, which the far-right capitalised on to gain a foothold in parliament.
This time round, Merkel’s government has repeatedly insisted it is key to find a European solution to the issue rather than going it alone.
European Council chief Charles Michel, in Athens for talks with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said that the EU must provide a ‘just, strong and efficient response’ to the problem.
Merkel’s Millions: How Angela Merkel decided to open Germany’s borders and allow over 2 million migrants into the country
In 2015, The Chancellor made a unilateral decision to open Germany’s borders to migrants.
More than one million people applied for asylum for the first time in 2015-2016 during a pivotal moment in Merkel’s now 15-year tenure.
At first Merkel seemed to have public opinion on her side taking smiling selfies with the new arrivals and coining the now legendary phrase ‘We can do this!’
But the debate around migration became deeply divisive, eating into public trust in Merkel and even leading to a far-right party – the AfD – gaining a meaningful presence in parliament for the first time since the Nazi regime.
Headline-grabbing events, such as mass sexual assaults committed against women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015/2016 and a Berlin Christmas market attack in December 2016, also led to a rise in anger directed at migrants.
However at the end of August, Merkel pointed to successes in integrating refugees into the job market and German society.
Angela Merkel told the annual summer press conference in Berlin she would make ‘essentially the same decisions’ as she did about migration in 2015
Her controversial pact with Turkey gave the country aid and the promise of visa-free travel in Europe in exchange for Turkey’s agreement to stop migration and to accept migrants back from Greece.
‘Nevertheless, the subject will continue to be of concern to us and will remain so in the years to come,’ she said. ‘The subject of migration… is not finished. It will be a constant theme for the 21st century.’
Last year 1,345,943 foreigners migrated to Germany, almost half of the amount that migrated to Germany in 2015 (2,016,241), according to The Federal Statistical Office.
Of those foreigners 165,938 applied for refugee status the majority of which were from war-torn Syria (41,094).
The Asylum Information Database reported that of those 165,938 applications, 54,034 were rejected and 45,053 were granted refugee status.
Numbers in 2015 were staggeringly higher with 362,153 applications for refugee status, 77,782 rejections and 81,547 successes.
Syrian migrants also made up the majority of these applications in 2015 with asylum seekers from Albania, Kosovo and Serbia making up the next highest numbers.
These three countries differed last year when Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan had the most applicants after Syria.
In August, Angela Merkel said she would ‘make essentially the same decisions’ when a journalist questioned whether she regrets opening the German border to migrants in 2015.