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Seven German mayors: Allow us to accept underage refugees

06.03.2020

Mayor in seven German cities pled with the government for the right to welcome underage refugees from Greece. The move comes after the federal parliament rejected a motion to accept minors from Greek refugee camps.

A plea letter signed by the mayors of seven German cities has called on the federal government to allow the cities to accept underage migrants from refugee camps in Greece.

The mayors of Cologne, Düsseldorf, Potsdam, Hanover, Freiburg, Rottenburg and Frankfurt (Oder), as well as the interior minister of Lower Saxony, Boris Pistorius, signed the appeal. The plea came two days after the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, rejected a motion to admit thousands of underage asylum-seekers from Greek refugee camps.

"The situation on the Greek islands" has "dramatically worsened in the last few days," read the joint statement, excerpts of which were published by the Hanover-based RND news network. "For children and women, in particular, the completely overcrowded camps, which lack the most necessary infrastructure, medical care and shelters, are untenable."

Read more: Migrants stuck on EU doorstep: What is Germany doing?

Safe havens at the ready

The letter pointed out that around 140 German cities have already declared themselves "safe havens" and want to help additional refugees. The mayors demand that the government create legal avenues immediately to allow these cities to accommodate refugees. 

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According to the statement, the alliance Cities of Safe Havens, a network of 130 cities and communities in Germany, as well as other German municipalities have already declared their readiness "to immediately accept up to 500 unaccompanied minors under the age of 14 years within the framework of an emergency program, who are accommodated in unacceptable conditions on the Greek islands."

It added that the reception capacities in the cities concerned have been examined, and they are "available for the accommodation and educational care of the children."

The cities would prioritize "children whose parents are in many cases no longer alive and who are alone in the refugee camps."

Waiting for a broader plan

The German government has been closely following the situation at the Greek-Turkish border after Turkey said in February it would no longer stop refugees from entering the European Union.

Turkey's announcement, effectively shredding a 2016 migrant deal with the EU, caused thousands of migrants to head towards neighboring Greece and Bulgaria — two EU member states. Both countries have sent security forces to their respective borders with Turkey to prevent a massive influx of migrants.

Refugees in Greece concerned about state of EU
'There is no life for LGBT refugees'

Pedro, an actor and LGBT activist, fled Lebanon due to safety concerns. He doesn’t see much hope in Greece. "I left because Lebanon was not safe for me as an LGBT and [being] HIV positive. But Greece isn’t much different," he told DW. But his biggest concern is the future: "Even if I get asylum in Greece life will not be good, because there are no jobs, the language is difficult."

Refugees in Greece concerned about state of EU
Fighting for their rights

Manar fled Syria in 2016 and now learns Greek and works as an interpreter with the Greek NGO Solidarity Now. "In Greece you have to count on yourself to support yourself and your family," she told DW. "If I look at the future of the Greek children, I can't find a very bright future for them so for sure I can't find any future for mine."

Refugees in Greece concerned about state of EU
Combating nationalism and climate crisis

Foivos has been in Greece since the 1980s when he fled the Syrian regime and came to study law. He now works as an interpreter at the Refugee Day Center Alkyone, and was a candidate in Thessaloniki's local elections. "The two biggest issues that Europe has to face now is the rise of nationalism and climate change," he told DW. "Poverty and misery leads to nationalism."

Refugees in Greece concerned about state of EU
A Europe for everyone

Since Suhaib fled Iraqi Kurdistan 18 months ago, he has been active in volunteer groups as a way to give something back to those who first helped him. "Fascists in the past killed millions, but after World War II Europeans volunteered in order to rebuild Europe," he says. "My message for European leaders would be to try to make a Europe for everyone."

Refugees in Greece concerned about state of EU
Losing its meaning

Fahima from Afghanistan has been in Greece since 2004, and now works as an interpreter for the Refugee Day Center Alkyone. Her biggest fear is the rise of fascism. "During the Greek government of 2012-2014 fascists became stronger. For this reason we had to leave Athens," she said. "Things in Europe will become worse from now on because of the far right. It now seems to be losing its meaning."

Refugees in Greece concerned about state of EU
Uncertain future

Malaz (not his real name) came to Greece in 2016 with his family. His sons started speaking Greek soon after they arrived, so they decided to stay in the country. "I am afraid of the rise of the far right," he told DW. "Things will become very difficult for Greece. If the EU wants to help refugees they should create jobs and offer education."

Refugees in Greece concerned about state of EU
EU is not doing enough

Bagher, who works as an assistant kindergarten facilitator, arrived in Greece in 2015 and was stuck in the country due to the EU's policies. "In the beginning Greece was a door but people got stuck here," he said. "But people need jobs and housing. Greeks don't even have jobs, how will we?" Even though Bagher remains optimistic, he doesn't think the EU is willing to help refugees.

Refugees in Greece concerned about state of EU
Europe's societies at risk

Mojtaba has been in Greece for over three years. He's currently at a Greek school and dreams of becoming a footballer or a dentist. He sees the rise of fascism as one of Europe's biggest problems, but not the only one. "Right-wing parties rise and this is not good for societies," he said. "The extreme right will destroy the face of Europe."

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Greece has already seen the number of refugees from Turkey increase annually, with more than 60,000 asylum-seekers landing on its Aegean islands in 2019. Refugee camps on the islands are over-crowded and have a shortage of food, clothing and medicine.

On Wednesday, the Bundestag voted down a motion by the Green party to admit 5,000 minors from Greek refugee camps. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who has taken a hard stance on migrants, has said Germany would only take in refugees as part of a broader European initiative.

Germany was one of the most sought after destinations during the European migrant crisis of 2015. The country saw more than a million asylum-seekers between January and December 2015.

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