The German Churches have criticised as “disgraceful” the EU response to the Greece-Turkey migrant crisis.
– The situation on the Greek-Turkish border: “Pitiful”
“Instead of finding humanitarian solutions in which all European countries take responsibility, men, women and children who seek protection are kept away… with tear gas”, Bavarian Lutheran bishop and chair of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, said today after a working meeting in Freising between Protestant church leaders and the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
“What is currently happening on the Turkish-Greek border is disgraceful”, Bedford-Strohm added.
For his part, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, former chairman of the German Catholic Bishops, explained that the humanitarian response to the refugee crisis “is not about an uncontrolled opening of the border, but about not losing sight of the concrete need” of desperate men and women fleeing for their lives to Europe.
Both Bedford-Strohm and Marx pointed out that Muslim Turkey had taken in 3.7 million people, while ‘Christian’ Europe refuses to accept 5,000 children: a fact they described as incomprehensible.
– “The situation has been dramatic for months and has recently worsened”
On Monday, the pointman of the German Bishops’ on refugees and migrants, Archbishop Stephan Hesse of Hamburg, had welcomed a government move to take in some of the most vulnerable refugee children trapped in the Greek migrant camps, but had warned that more solidarity is needed.
“The humanitarian situation in the Greek refugee camps has been dramatic for months and has recently worsened. I therefore welcome the coalition’s decision that Germany, in conjunction with other EU member states, will participate in the admission of sick and particularly vulnerable children and adolescents”, Hesse said in a Facebook post.
Hesse was referring to the German government’s plan, also announced this March 9, to take in “an appropriate share” of the refugee children most in need in camps on Greece’s islands and border with Turkey.
The administration of Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was seeking “a coalition of the willing” among EU states to admit around 1,000 – 1,500 children – mostly girls, according to media reports – identified as being in particular need because of their lack of the accompaniment of a caregiver or because of medical concerns.
This decision to take in the children struggling to survive in unsanitary, overcrowded and violent conditions “was urgent”, Archbishop Hesse said.
– A “certain despondency”
Germany’s intention to form that coalition to welcome unaccompanied and sick migrant children in Greece notwithstanding, Hesse admitted he still felt a “certain despondency” after the announcement of the plan “in view of the large number of people in need of protection” still on the land and sea borders.
The over 50,000 refugees on the Greek islands and land border with Turkey – but also Greece itself, struggling to cope with the influx, “will need further steps of solidarity”, the archbishop warned.
He added that “Germany and the other European countries must not avoid this responsibility”.
– Münster diocesan refugee delegate: “We could accept 500,000 refugees in Germany without major problems”
For its part, the Diocese of Münster also warned Monday that it expects more of Germany and the EU in the face of the migrant disaster in Greece and Turkey.
Calling the EU response so far a “tragedy”, Münster diocesan refugee delegate Helmut Flötotto urged authorities to remedy quickly the “miserable situation” the refugees find themselves in, not only by taking in asylum seekers but also engaging in publicly-funded and operated Mediterranean sea rescue operations.
“The abrogation of international law and human rights, as is happening at the Greek border, is not compatible with the values of Europe”, Flötotto denounced.
He that an EU that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 shouldn’t sidestep people in dire need who are understandably looking for a way to Europe.
It would certainly be a challenge, the Münster refugee delegate added, to take in especially the women and children at risk in the unsafe camps, “but a community of values, such as the EU sees itself, cannot withdraw” from that challenge, Flötotto urged.
Emphasising that, in his opinion, Germany in particular and the EU in general have learnt from the 2015 migrant crisis, the Münster refugee delegate affirmed that there is space in Germany for all.
“I am convinced that we could accept 500,000 refugees in Germany without major problems and that we can integrate many of them into the labor market”, Flötotto insisted.