Germany must take in several thousand refugees from Greece, SPD leader Esken had demanded. Now the SPD is giving in to pressure from the CDU/CSU.
Migrants on the island of Lesbos sleep next to a tent Photo: Petros Giannakourisdpa
Germany wants to provide even more aid after the Moria fire disaster and take in 1,553 additional refugees from five Greek islands. The CDU/CSU and SPD agreed on this on Tuesday, as Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) announced in Berlin. These are 408 families with children who have already been recognized as in need of protection in Greece.
This is to be the second step after German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) had already announced on Friday that Germany would take in up to 150 young people from a total of 400 unaccompanied minors. The 400 minors are to be distributed among European countries.
In a third step, according to the German government, additional people may be admitted if agreements are reached with other European countries. The SPD had demanded the admission of a significant proportion of those affected.
According to information from dpa, the admission of the families has already been agreed with the Greek government. CSU leader Markus Soder called the proposal a "very good compromise." SPD leader Saskia Esken had previously called for Germany to take in several thousand refugees from Greece in addition to the offers of help already made.
EU Council President Charles Michel stressed the need to reform the European asylum system during a visit to Athens. "We need to develop a just and strong response to fight traffickers and a new asylum system," he said after a meeting with Greek head of government Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Host Mitsotakis announced a new camp on the island of Lesbos, to be jointly led by the EU and Greece.
The idea of a new, closed camp on Lesbos is nothing new – there have been corresponding plans in Athens for some time. However, the island’s inhabitants have so far successfully resisted such a facility. They fear that this would finally stigmatize them as a refugee island and want the migrants to leave the island.
Green Party leader Katrin Goring-Eckardt demanded that the German government "quickly take in 5,000 people." The admission of 400 families who already have positive asylum decisions is "an alibi offer." The chairman of the Left Party, Bernd Riexinger, said, "Taking in the refugees from the camps in the federal states and municipalities that have declared their willingness to do so would be easily feasible." That Seehofer is preventing this "can hardly be surpassed in terms of cold-heartedness and cynicism."
The migration policy spokeswoman of the FDP parliamentary group, Linda Teuteberg, on the other hand, said, "A new German solo does not go far. The equally important and difficult task of a common European migration policy is a matter for the European Union and not for German local and state politicians." AfD party deputy Stephan Brandner criticized the planned aid operation. He said, "Flying in migrants from Moria creates further incentives to set fire to refugee camps around the world and thus extort a ticket to Germany."
Greek authorities believe that the Moria refugee camp, which has been hopelessly overcrowded for years, was set on fire by migrants last week. Earlier, the situation there had escalated after several asylum seekers tested positive for the coronavirus.
Greek Minister for Citizen Protection Michalis Chrysochoidis said Tuesday that five of six suspected arsonists had now been located. He told state radio, "The arsonists have been arrested. They are young migrants. Another is still being sought."
Greek media reported that two of the suspected arsonists had not been arrested on Lesvos, but in northern Greece. They were minors who had been flown out to northern Greece the day after the blaze to protect them and were to be taken in by other EU states, Athens TV station "Mega" reported, citing police circles.
Police sources said the five arrested were Afghans whose asylum applications had been rejected. More than 12,500 migrants were left homeless by the fire last Wednesday night.
Seehofer had said Friday that Germany would take in 100 to 150 youngsters out of a total of 400 unaccompanied minors to be taken from Greece to other European countries. In addition, he stressed that they then want to talk with Athens in a second step about the admission of families with children.
The Greek authorities – apart from the 400 unaccompanied minors – had not officially requested the admission of the now homeless people in other EU states so far. However, many of them are reluctant to move in. As of Tuesday morning, about 800 migrants had been admitted to the camp, which now has space for about 5,000 people, Greek state broadcaster ERT reported.
Before the fire, Germany had already pledged to join other European countries in taking in migrants from the islands who are particularly in need of protection – unaccompanied children and young people, as well as sick children with their parents and siblings. According to the German government, this earlier pledge is expected to affect at least 1,000 people in total, more than 500 of whom are already in Germany.