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

Thousands of protesters call on Germany and EU to accept refugees after Moira fire
People social distancing during a protest for refugees in Leipzig on Wednesday evening. Photo: DPA
People took to the streets across Germany to call on governments in Europe to help refugees affected by the major fire at a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

According to the police, around 3,000 people marched in Berlin, more than 1,200 in Hamburg and 300 in Frankfurt am Main. There were also rallies in Leipzig and other cities across the country.

They demanded the immediate evacuation of all camps on the Greek islands and for EU countries to accept refugees.

Carrying posters that said: “Evacuate Moria” and “Shame on you EU”, speakers at the demos said European leaders should have acted even before the fire happened because of the unsuitable conditions.

Seabridge and the International League for Human Rights, two of the organisations to call for the rallies, said individual states had to lead the way because a European-wide solution was not in sight.

Greece's Lesbos island was plunged into crisis Wednesday after thousands of asylum seekers were left homeless from a huge fire that gutted the country's largest and most notorious migrant facility, Moria camp.

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The civil protection agency declared a four-month emergency for the island of 85,000 people and Germany urged EU states to take in the camp's survivors.

German officials said the country was ready to help but called for the support of all EU member states.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called it a “humanitarian disaster”.

“With the European Commission and other EU member states that are ready to help, we need to quickly clarify how we can help Greece,” Maas, whose country holds the presidency of the bloc, said on Twitter.

“That includes the distribution of refugees among those in the EU who are willing to take them in,” he added.

The Moria camp, built to hold fewer than 2,800 people but was home to around 12,000, has been routinely slammed by rights groups and the UN refugee agency for a lack of sanitation and overcrowding.

From January to the end of August, five people were stabbed in more than 15 attacks, according to camp officials.

Can Europe share responsibility?

The question on how the bloc should share out its refugee responsibilities has once again gained urgency on the political agenda.

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The European Commission is due to come up with a proposal by the end of September on a new pact on migration and asylum.

Germany on Wednesday pushed for urgent reform of the EU's migration policies, with its minister for Europe telling AFP it was all the more crucial to act quickly following the fire.

“We urgently need a common refugee intake programme among as many EU countries as possible and finally a common asylum and migration policy for the EU,” Michael Roth said.

“Protecting Europe means defending human rights. Germany and the European Union must quickly help the refugees, and Greece now needs our support and solidarity,” stressed the minister, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the bloc.

Countries divided on refugees and migrants

The arrival of huge numbers of refugees in 2015 was a defining moment that put European solidarity to the test.

Fearing a humanitarian disaster, Chancellor Angela Merkel kept the country's doors open, allowing in hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers, a policy the far-right seized on at that time to get a foothold in parliament.

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

In 2016, the bloc struck a deal with Turkey for Ankara to take back migrants in exchange for financial assistance and political concessions.

With public opinion bitterly divided in Germany, Merkel's government began taking a harder line and dissuading new arrivals.

But with the bloc unable to decide on a common policy, the migration issue flares each time asylum seekers are rescued from drowning in the Mediterranean as they seek to reach European shores.

Germany, France, Italy and Malta agreed last September on a temporary mechanism, on a voluntary basis, for the distribution of migrants rescued at sea.

So far however, only a few countries such as Portugal, Luxembourg and Ireland have joined the initiative.

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


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