Should Germany step up support for refugees after Moira camp blaze?

Should Germany step up support for refugees after Moira camp blaze?
Demonstrators say "we have space" in Frankfurt on Wednesday. Photo: DPA
Five years after a mass asylum seeker influx bitterly divided Germany, a fire laying waste to the biggest migrant camp in Greece has revived debate over how much of the bloc's refugee burden Europe's biggest economy could shoulder.

Spontaneous gatherings of people sprang up across Germany late Wednesday, with protesters chanting: “We have space here”.

Germany's most populous region North Rhine-Westphalia has also voiced its readiness to take in up to 1,000 asylum seekers from the devastated Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, which has the ultimate say on any intake, has so far held back.

Although Interior Minister Horst Seehofer held talks with his Greek counterpart to offer aid, he notably did not make a promise outright to open Germany's doors to refugees from the camp.

Instead, his spokesman said Berlin was waiting on Athens to detail its needs, while German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged EU member states to all step up and take in people left homeless by the fire.

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The message is clear: the German government wants the bloc to agree on sharing out the load before putting up its hand.

READ ALSO: Thousands of protesters call on Germany and EU to accept refugees after Moira fire

 'Disgrace of Europe'

Some regional and local leaders are urging Merkel's government to move faster in the emergency.

“We need two things: immediate aid for Moria and sustainable European help to take in children and families,” said North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Armin Laschet, who is a candidate in the race for the top job in Merkel's party.

While his party has sought to tighten immigration rules since 2016, Laschet is one of the few German political figures who has ever travelled to the camp.

Asylum seekers sleep on the roadside near the burnt-out refugee camp Moria. Photo: DPA

With sanitation and safety overstretched inside the camp walls, Moria has long been labelled a disgrace to European values by many rights groups.

Other German states like Lower Saxony and Thuringia have since said they too were ready to receive refugees.

The co-leader of the Green party, Annalena Baerbock, pointed out that “there is capacity, there is the space, there is certainly a lot of willingness from states and local governments to help”.

Berlin mayor Michael Müller echoed her assessment, saying: “It is incomprehensible for me that the federal government does not allow cities that are ready to provide swift help in solidarity to do so.”

Thorny issue

Even before the disaster in Lesbos, calls had been growing louder in some quarters for Merkel's government to take action.

A collective of activists on Monday installed 13,000 chairs in front of parliament demanding the evacuation of migrants from Lesbos.

Local authorities across the country have also sought to take in migrants saved from drowning in the Mediterranean.

READ ALSO: Five years on: How well did Germany manage the refugee crisis

While officials had once feared being overstretched by the huge numbers of new arrivals in 2015, today some note that facilities are lying empty and can serve to host the needy.

“Our city has capacity in terms of personnel and organisation,” said Andreas Geisel, who is in charge of internal affairs in the city of Berlin.

But asylum remains a thorny subject in Germany, with Merkel's party notably wary after the far-right seized on the huge influx and the chancellor's open-door stance to gain a firm foothold in parliament.

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has since stagnated in opinion polls while Merkel's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has given her party a boost in the run-up to elections next year.

On Thursday, the AfD's chief Tino Chrupalla voiced opposition to taking in refugees from Moria, saying it would send the “message that whoever's camp burns down will get to be evacuated to Germany.”

“Rather, the EU has a duty to help the Greeks to provide help on the ground.

READ ALSO: Did welcoming refugees usher in Merkel's final act?


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