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Germany to take in 1,500 refugees from Greek islands

By AFP - Sep 15,2020 - Last updated at Sep 15,2020

Migrants wait to register to enter a new temporary camp where refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp will be accommodated in Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday (AFP photo)

BERLIN — Germany plans to offer refuge to 1,500 migrants currently taking shelter on Greek islands, government sources told AFP Tuesday, as immigration shot up the EU's political agenda again after a huge fire destroyed an overcrowded camp.

Thousands of former occupants of Moria camp on Lesbos island in Greece have been sleeping rough in abandoned buildings, on roadsides and rooftops, after their shelters were destroyed by the blaze on the night of September 8.

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 officials have said several times that the fire was started by migrants who faced isolation after testing positive for coronavirus

With pressure growing on the EU to respond to the humanitarian crisis and help Greece, Berlin joined a European initiative to take in 400 unaccompanied minors from the burn-out camp.

In addition to accepting around 150 of the minors, Germany also plans to welcome families with children who have already secured refugee status in Greece but may not be from the Moria camp, according to a plan agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, government sources told AFP.

The outlines of the plan emerged as German cities and towns urged Berlin to do more.

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.


800 migrants in new camp 


Meanwhile in Lesbos, authorities were rushing to set up a new, temporary shelter, while locals prepared to stage an anti-migrant protest.

Many migrants have refused to enter the new camp of white tents near the eastern port-village of Panagiouda, fearing they will be unable to leave once inside.

Others, though, have reluctantly made their way to the site in the searing heat.

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.

“There’s nothing in the camp, no shower, no mattresses,” Malik, an Algerian migrant, told AFP by phone from inside the camp where he now lives with his wife and five children.

“There is only one meal per day, and they give us a carton with six bottles of water,” said the French language teacher.

Many migrants also fear the animosity of Lesbos residents.

There have been frequent incidents between the asylum seekers and locals, including those from the far-right, since last year.

Kostas Mountzouris, governor of the North Aegean region covering Lesbos and one of the most ardent opponents of the new camp, has called on local businesses to protest on Tuesday and seek “the removal of migrants from the island”.

On Monday, the government renewed its accusation that a group of migrants deliberately destroyed the Moria camp.

“The camp was burnt by refugees and migrants who wanted to blackmail the government in order to be rapidly transferred from the island [to the continent],” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters in Athens, giving no further details.


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