BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany has agreed to take in 1,553 migrants stranded on Greek islands after a fire destroyed an overcrowded camp, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said on Tuesday, in a gesture of solidarity with its fellow European Union member state.
Merkel’s decision follows a rise in opinion polls by her conservative party at the expense of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), after what is widely seen as her steady handling of the coronavirus crisis.
More than 12,000 people, mostly asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Africa and Syria, were left without shelter, proper sanitation or access to food after a fire destroyed the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos last week.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert confirmed that Germany would house some 1,553 migrants from 408 families whose asylum applications had already been accepted.
Greece has long been burdened by the number of migrants arriving by sea, and there are around 30,000 refugees and migrants now stranded on Greek islands.
The issue of migration continues to divide the EU, which has failed to craft a common asylum policy five years after Merkel opened Germany’s doors to 1.2 million people seeking protection.
The AfD entered German parliament for the first time two years later, and is the main opposition party.
Germany will also accept up to 150 unaccompanied minors as asylum seekers and is in the process of taking in 243 children who need treatment and their close family, who will total about 1,000 people, said Seibert.
“The government is committed to a further European solution with other member states,” Seibert said in a statement, adding that this would involve Germany accepting more people in line with its size.
Polls show a majority of Germans favour welcoming migrants who need protection, and Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer have faced calls from regional and local politicians to ease the burden on Greece by taking in migrants.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt and Holger Hansen, Writing by Michelle Adair and Joseph Nasr, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Mike Collett-White)