Germany to resettle 1,500 migrants from Greek camps in wake of fire

Refugees will be moved from several Greek camps, but only those already granted asylum will be included

Children wake up after spending the night on the road near Mytilene after a fire destroyed Greece's largest Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, early on September 10, 2020. - Greek authorities on September 10 were racing to shelter thousands of asylum seekers left homeless on Lesbos after the island's main migrant camp was gutted by back-to-back fires, which destroyed the official part of the camp housing 4,000 people. Another 8,000 lived in tents and makeshift shacks around the perimeter and many were badly damaged. (Photo by LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP) (Photo by LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Children have been forced to sleep rough following the fire at Moria camp Credit: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP

Germany is to take in more than 1,500 refugees from Greece following the fire that devastated Moria migrant camp on Lesbos, it emerged on Tuesday.

But under the terms of an agreement with the Greek government, the deal will not be limited to those directly affected directly by the fire.

Instead, some 400 families with children will be resettled in Germany from migrant camps on a number of Greek islands. Only those who have already been granted full asylum as refugees will be included.

The new deal is in addition to an earlier commitment by Germany to take 100 to 150 unaccompanied minors left homeless by the fire in Moria.

Although no official announcement has been made, government sources in Greece and Germany confirmed the arrangement.

France is set to announce a similar deal in the coming days, according to sources in Athens.

Germany has been locked in fevered political debate over whether to take in migrants affected by the fire in recent days.

The Greek government has refused to countenance any resettlement plan limited to migrants on Lesbos, which it says would reward arson. It says at least one of the fires was started deliberately by migrants in order to get off the island.

Angela Merkel initially pressed for a European Union scheme to resettle migrants affected by the fire, but that now appears unlikely after a number of member states said they would refuse to accept any.

Migrants prayed at a new temporary camp on Lesbos Credit: ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS/REUTERS

Mrs Merkel has come under domestic pressure to act unilaterally in recent days, with her coalition partners, the centre-Left Social Democrats (SPD), calling for Germany to take in a “high four-digit number” of migrants from Moria.

But she has also faced opposition from many in her own Christian Democrat party (CDU) who believe if Germany acts alone it will scupper any chance of an EU solution.

It now appears Mrs Merkel was always prepared to take unilateral action. According to sources in Athens, she thrashed out the details of the latest deal over the phone with Kyriakos Mitsokakis, the Greek prime minister, in the hours after Moria went up in flames.

“For all those who can escape the hell of Moria as a result, this is good news, and 1,500 is of course better than 150,” said Peter Neher, head of the German chapter of Caritas, the Roman Catholic relief organisation.

But the deal was criticised by German opposition parties. “I am happy for everyone who can escape these catastrophic conditions,” said Katrin Göring-Eckardt of the Greens. “But the admission of 400 families who already have asylum is a figleaf. We are calling for Germany to take in 5,000 people.”

It also came under fire from Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, who said his country would not follow Germany’s lead.

“I believe a great many European countries will not follow this path,” Mr Kurz said. “Here in Austria, we have taken in a very large number of refugees in recent years.”