Mon, Sep 14, 2015 - Page 6 News List

EUROPEAN REFUGEE CRISIS: Munich officials struggling with scale of arrivals

AFP, MUNICH, Germany

Recently arrived refugees are routed off trains at the main rail station in Munich, Germany, yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Authorities in Munich have said they are overwhelmed by the influx of migrants streaming into the Bavarian capital, as Europe-wide protests saw tens of thousands take to the streets in both support of and opposition to refugees.

More than 10,000 migrants arrived in Munich on Saturday, leading regional officials to sound the alarm and urge other areas in Germany — seen as the promised land by many of those seeking safe haven in Europe — to pull their weight.

Meanwhile, divisions in Europe were evident on the streets, with tens of thousands marching through London waving placards saying “Refugee lives matter,” while in Eastern European capitals protesters called for refugees to “go home.”

Germany has so far taken the lion’s share of migrants, admitting 450,000 people this year, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to relax asylum rules for Syrians drawing praise from the refugees, but also sharp criticism from domestic allies and counterparts abroad.

“We no longer know what to do with refugees,” Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter said, amid fears many of the new arrivals would have to spend the night outdoors.

“Munich and Bavaria can’t overcome this great challenge alone,” a spokeswoman for the Bavarian authorities said, adding the city was struggling to find shelter for all the additional people.

As the newcomers arrived, some onlookers at Munich station held welcome signs to greet them. However, there were far fewer than several days ago when cheering volunteers handed out groceries and children’s toys.

As the continent scrambles to respond to the biggest movement of people since World War II, sharp divisions have emerged between the EU’s 28 member states, at both the government level and on the streets.

At the London rally, Britain’s newly elected opposition Labour Party leader and veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn drew huge cheers when he addressed the crowd from the back of a truck.

“Open your hearts and open your minds,” the opposition chief said, “toward supporting people who are desperate, who need somewhere safe to live, want to contribute to our society, and are human beings just like all of us.”

A boy dressed as Paddington Bear — the marmalade-loving migrant who arrived at London’s Paddington Station from “deepest, darkest Peru” in Michael Bond’s famous books — clutched a sign saying: “Paddington Bear Was A Refugee.”

About 30,000 people also turned out in Copenhagen to express solidarity with asylum seekers, as well as thousands in both Madrid and Hamburg, Germany, and smaller numbers in Stockholm, Helsinki and Lisbon.

However, in Eastern Europe thousands took to the streets to voice their opposition to the influx, their numbers dwarfing those attending a handful of pro-migrant rallies.

“Islam will be the death of Europe” chanted protesters at a rally in Warsaw, which was attended by nearly 5,000 people and began with prayers identifying many marchers as Roman Catholics.

Hundreds also demonstrated in Prague and in Bratislava, some holding banners reading: “You’re not welcome here, so go home.”

The International Organization for Migration on Friday said that more than 430,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, with 2,748 dying en route or going missing. The emergency has exposed deep rifts within the EU, with “frontline” states Italy, Greece and Hungary buckling under the strain and European Commission proposals for sharing 160,000 of the new arrivals in a quota scheme facing resistance from eastern members.

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