Moria camp: Germany, France and other EU countries to take 400 child refugees


Four hundred children left without shelter after fire destroyed a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos will be relocated across 10 countries in the European Union, with Germany and France taking in the bulk of those affected.

Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, said on Friday morning his country was prepared to take up to 150 unaccompanied minors from Moria camp – despite some of Germany’s largest states and cities saying they were prepared to take in more.

The European commission later confirmed it would pay for the transfer of 400 unaccompanied children to 10 participating member states, as well as temporary shelter for up to 1,600 people on a ferry in Lesbos.

Seehofer drew criticism for declining to take in more of the nearly 13,000 people in need of emergency housing after the fire gutted the camp on Tuesday and Wednesday.

At a joint press conference with Margaritis Schinas, a commission vice-president, Seehofer said the most important thing was to offer “help on the ground”, for example, by providing food and temporary shelter.

The federal states of Berlin, Thuringia, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, as well as the mayors of 10 German cities, announced they were willing to take in refugees from Lesbos.

“We are prepared to take in people from Moria to defuse the humanitarian catastrophe,” the mayors of cities including Düsseldorf, Freiburg, Hanover and Cologne said in an open letter to Seehofer and the chancellor, Angela Merkel.

In Berlin, about 3,000 people demonstrated under the motto “We have room” on Wednesday evening, condemning Moria as a “camp of shame”.

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Seehofer, who has repeatedly clashed with Merkel over her open-border stance at the height of the 2015 refugee crisis, has so far blocked the arrival of refugees through federal reception initiatives, insisting on the need for a coordinated European response.

Schinas, the European commissioner for promoting the European way of life, confirmed on Friday that the commission would unveil proposals on 30 September for a new pact on migration and asylum. “Moria is a sharp reminder to all of us of what we need to change in Europe,” he said.

German media have accused Seehofer of using his call for a joint-European response as an excuse for inaction. In an editorial on its website, the news weekly Der Spiegel said the inhumane living conditions at the Moria camp had been known to Europe’s national governments for months but were never acted upon.

“Taking these refugees in would indeed run counter to a strategy of maximal deterrence,” Der Spiegel argued. “But then politicians should face up to their own cold toughness – and not pretend that the inaction of the past is only an unpleasant consequence of difficult European negotiations.”

A woman flees with a child as the fire burns in Moria camp on Wednesday.



A woman flees with a child as the fire burns in Moria camp on Wednesday. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

The UK government is also facing urgent calls to offer support to the children. The Labour peer Alf Dubs, a former child refugee and campaigner for safe routes, has written to the home secretary, Priti Patel, asking her to bring some of the minors made homeless by the fire to the UK.

Lord Dubs wrote: “A terrible tragedy is unfolding at the Moria camp. The UK government must step in immediately and offer safety to the unaccompanied children now surviving in the open. The issue of safe routes for child refugees has always had cross-party support and after this horrendous fire the government cannot keep dodging the issue by insisting that children are safe in Europe. This shows beyond doubt that children are not safe.

“Whether in a camp on the Greek island or in northern France, children are at extreme risk and need our help now. Failing to act would be an outrage.”

The crisis in Lesbos intensifies the debate in the UK around laws on family reunion for unaccompanied minors. EU laws which allow minors to have their claim transferred to the UK if they have family in the country are due to come to an end when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.

Dubs is leading efforts to protect family reunion with an amendment to the immigration bill. It is currently before the House of Lords having been voted down by the government.

The charity Safe Passage said there were children stuck on Lesbos despite having been already approved for transfer to the UK to join close family.

A lawyer for the charity, Stefania Tomasini, said: “I spoke with our client Ahmed who was accepted for family reunion back in May and I’ve never heard him so upset. He said even the war in Syria was better than the situation in Moria. He has lost everything and has no idea where to get food or to sleep.”



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