BERLIN Germany agreed on Tuesday to take in more than 1,500 refugees now living in Greece, in a challenge to other wealthy European countries that have been reluctant to help Greece relocate thousands of homeless people as fires devastated most camps. large number of refugees in Europe.
The decision followed an intense debate within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, with some officials arguing that Berlin should wait to take action until there is a common European Union response to the crisis in Greece. They feared that a unilateral move by Germany, while showing solidarity with Greece, could create the politically unpopular impression that the country had reopened its borders, as it did in 2015, when it accepted more than a million people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
The German government will allow 1,553 people from 408 families already recognized as refugees from Greece to settle in Germany, Steffen Seibert, a spokeswoman for Ms. Merkels. Germany had already agreed to accept about 1,200 other asylum seekers who have been sheltered in Greece around 200 unaccompanied minors and 243 children seeking medical treatment, along with their families.
In total, Germany will receive about 2,750 people from the Greek islands, Mr Seibert said in a statement after the chancellor and her ministers reached agreement on the move.
Ms Merkel’s willingness to take political risk speaks to her confidence as she addresses what she has repeatedly said will be her last year in office and at a time when her popularity has risen above what widely seen as its effective treatment of coronavirus pandemic.
Germany’s move could increase pressure on other wealthy European Union members to act, and it appears to have been an implicit reprimand over their failure to ease tensions with Greece, a bloc member.
Migrants who have settled in overcrowded camps on the Greek islands come from dozens of countries, but the largest number are from Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who has dramatically strengthened Greek policy on undocumented migrants, welcomed the move, but warned that it should in no way be seen as a reward for those trying to enter the country illegally, according to a government member. who spoke on condition of anonymity because the statement had not been officially issued by the prime minister’s office.
Instead, the statement said, it brings back to the European debate the issue of refugee resettlement and the provision of relief for first-time entry countries ahead of the European Commission’s proposals for a joint 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 host member countries. If an agreement is reached, he said, Germany would also participate to an appropriate extent in line with the size of our country.
Under an EU agreement, Greece keeps migrants in refugee camps until their asylum applications are processed, which could take more than a year than allow them to pass through the wealthy northern countries most of them hope to reach. .
Last week, fires destroyed the largest camp, Moria, on the island of Lesbos, leaving about 12,000 people, including 4,000 children, stranded without shelter or sanitation.
Germany was one of 10 EU countries that agreed to take unaccompanied minors out of the camp shortly after the fires, but the center-left Social Democrats, who share power with Ms Merkel’s Conservatives alongside the opposition Greens and on the Left, rebuked the government for failing to take the lead.
Horst Seehofer, the German Interior Minister who in 2017 forced the chancellor to set a limit on the number of migrants allowed to enter the country at a time when the anti-immigrant party, the far-right Alternative for Germany was enjoying a surge in popularity , said Berlin was still seeking support from within Europe.
At this hour, there is no other EU country that is joining Germany in its gesture, Mr Seehofer told the Sddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Tuesday. Describing the situation in Greece as unstable, he said, We can not wait forever.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, visited Lesbos on Tuesday in what he called an expression of solidarity with migrants, as well as local Greeks and humanitarian workers who have supported them. He called on all members of the bloc to be more committed to helping solve the problem.
All European countries should mobilize their support for countries such as Greece that are on the front line of the migration crisis, said Mr. Michel. There is no miracle solution when it comes to migration. We need coherent measures based on the values that unite us.
Niki Kitsantonis contributed to the report from Athens.
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