BERLIN – Germany agreed on Tuesday to accept more than 1,500 refugees now living in Greece as a challenge to other wealthy European countries reluctant to help Greece resettle thousands of homeless people following last week’s blaze. the largest refugee camp in Europe.
The decision followed an intense debate in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, with some officials arguing that Berlin should wait for action until there is a common European Union response to the crisis in Greece. They feared that Germany’s unilateral move, while showing solidarity with Greece, could give the politically unpopular impression that the country had reopened its borders, as it did in 201
The German government will allow 1,553 people from 408 families who have already been recognized as refugees by Greece to settle in Germany, Merkel’s spokeswoman Stephen Seibert said on Tuesday. Germany had already agreed to accept about 1,200 other asylum seekers housed in Greece – about 200 unaccompanied minors and 243 children in need of medical treatment, along with their families.
“In total, Germany will accept about 2,750 people from the Greek islands,” Mr Seibert said in a statement after the chancellor and its ministers agreed on the move.
Ms Merkel’s willingness to take political risks speaks volumes about her confidence as she embarks on what she has repeatedly said will be her last year in office, at a time when her popularity has risen due to what is widely is seen as its effective coping pandemic by coronavirus.
This move by Germany could increase pressure on other wealthy members of the European Union to act, and seems like an implicit rebuke for their failure to ease tensions over bloc Greece.
Migrants crammed into overcrowded camps on Greek islands come from dozens of countries, but most come from Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who has dramatically solidified Greek policy on undocumented migrants, welcomed the move, but warned that it “should in no way be seen as rewarding those who try to enter the country illegally”, according to a member of parliament. the government, which spoke on condition of anonymity, as the statement was not officially issued by the prime minister’s office.
“Rather,” the statement said, “it brings back to the European debate the issue of the relocation of refugees and the provision of relief to countries entering the country before the European Commission’s proposals for a general agreement on migration and asylum to be presented next week. “
Mr Seibert said the German government remained “committed to a broader European solution with other welcoming Member States”. If an agreement is reached, he said, Germany “will also participate appropriately according to the size of our country.”
Under an agreement with the EU, Greece keeps migrants in refugee camps until their asylum applications have been processed – it could take more than a year – instead of allowing them to move to the richer northern countries most hope to reach.
Last week, fires destroyed the largest of these camps, Moria, on the island of Lesbos, leaving about 12,000 people, including 4,000 children, homeless and without sanitation.
Germany was one of 10 EU countries that agreed to admit unaccompanied minors from the camp immediately after the fires, but the center-left Social Democrats, who share power with Merkel’s conservatives, along with the opposition Greens and Left, rebuked the government for failed to take the lead.
Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister, who in 2017 forced the chancellor to set a limit on the number of migrants who can enter the country at a time when the anti-immigrant, far-right Alternative for Germany party is growing in popularity, said that Berlin is still seeking support from Europe.
“At this hour, there is no other EU country to join” Germany in his gesture, Mr Seehofer told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday. Describing the situation in Greece as insolvent, he said: “We can’t wait forever.”
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, visited Lesbos on Tuesday in solidarity with migrants, as well as with local Greeks and aid workers. He called on all members of the bloc to be more committed to helping solve the problem.
“All European countries must mobilize their support for countries like Greece that are at the forefront of the migration crisis,” Mr Michel said. “There is no miracle solution to migration. We need coordinated measures based on the values that unite us. “
Niki Kitsantonis participates in the reports from Athens.