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20th Jan 2021

Coronavirus

Berlin ready to airlift Greek island refugees

  • Some €55,000 has been collected to airlift people from Greece to Berlin (Photo: Spyros V. Oikonomou)

German activists have collected funds to start airlifting refugees and asylum seekers from the Greek islands to Berlin.

"If the governments say yes, we can start immediately. It is a matter of organisation with a flight broker, which means it could take two days," Axel Steier of the German NGO Mission Lifeline, told EUobserver on Tuesday (31 March).

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Steier, who co-founded the NGO, says they collected €55,000 in donations following plans by city of Berlin state politicians to relocate 1,500 people or possibly more stuck on the Greek islands to the German capital.

He says German church affiliated charity organisations like Diakonie and Stadtmission Berlin have agreed to help when it comes to housing the new arrivals.

The money collected covers two flights but the NGO is seeking more donations to continue future airlifts.

"We try to finance more now so we can make an airlift between Lesbos and Berlin and if there is more money and more willing local governments we can bring more," said Steier.

Some 42,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are spread out across five Greek Aegean islands. Of those, around 20,000 are crammed into Moria, a camp on the island of Lesbos, and whose facilities are designed to accommodate 3,000.

Faced with deplorable conditions described as among the worst in the world when it comes to refugee camps, fears are mounting of a looming Covid-19 outbreak amid reports by Human Rights Watch that Greece is also arbitrarily detaining nearly 2,000 people on the mainland.

The urgency of the efforts to decongest the islands has since led to a new proposal by the Berlin state government to bring in the most vulnerable.

Red/Red/Green

In an interview with German media outlet Der Tagesspiegel, Berlin's justice minister Dirk Behrendt said the idea had received cross party support at the state level and that the city is ready to take in people.

"The red-red-green state government is completely on the same page," he said, in reference to party coalition colours spanning the Social Democratic Party, Left Party, and the Greens.

"If something doesn't happen very quickly at the federal level - and for me this is more a question of hours than days - then Berlin is also prepared to take its own steps together with civil society organisations and fly people out of Lesbos," he said.

He noted while Germany was able to repatriate 170,000 holiday-makers around the world in a matter of days due to the pandemic, the federal government is still dithering about on earlier pledges to relocate unaccompanied minors from Greece.

"There is apparently a reluctance in Germany because there are fears of playing into the hands of the AfD [Alternative for German, a far-right political party] with a large-scale evacuation operation," he told Tagesspiegel.

The EU had earlier this year cobbled together a plan to evacuate 1,600 unaccompanied minors in the aftermath of Turkey's failed efforts to force political concessions after opening its borders for migrants to cross into Greece.

Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Portugal were among the first to agree to take in the minors but the proposal stalled following the outbreak of Covid-19. Some states, such as the Netherlands, have flat out refused.

"We are not willing to take over children," said Dutch migration minister Ankie Broekers-Knol earlier this month.

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