Four hundred children left homeless after a fire destroyed a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos will be transferred to 10 European Union countries, with Germany and France hosting the majority of those affected.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Friday morning that his country was ready to take in up to 150 unaccompanied minors from the Moria camp – although some of Germany’s largest states and cities say they are ready to welcome more.
The European Commission later confirmed that it would support the transfer of 400 unaccompanied children to 10 participating Member States, as well as a temporary shelter for up to 1,600 people on a ferry to Lesvos.
Seehofer has been criticized for refusing to take in more than nearly 13,000 people in need of emergency housing after the fire ravaged the camp on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In a joint press conference with Margaritis Schinas, vice-chair of the committee, 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, have announced that they are ready to welcome refugees from Lesbos.
“We are ready to welcome people from Moria to defuse the humanitarian catastrophe,” the mayors of cities like Düsseldorf, Freiburg, Hanover and Cologne said in an open letter to Seehofer and Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In Berlin, around 3,000 people demonstrated under the slogan “We have room” on Wednesday evening, condemning Moria as a “camp of shame”.
Seehofer, who has clashed with Merkel on several occasions over her open border stance at the height of the 2015 refugee crisis, has so far blocked the arrival of refugees through initiatives reception, stressing the need for a coordinated European response.
Schinas, the European commissioner responsible for promoting the European way of life, confirmed on Friday that the committee would unveil proposals for a new pact on migration and asylum on September 30. “Moria reminds us all of what we need to change in Europe,” he said.
German media have accused Seehofer of using his call for a common European response as an excuse for inaction. In an editorial published on its website, the news weekly Der Spiegel said the inhumane living conditions in Moria camp had been known to European national governments for months but had never been acted upon.
“Welcoming these refugees would indeed run counter to a strategy of maximum deterrence,” said Der Spiegel. “But then, politicians have to face their own cold hardness – and not pretend that the inaction of the past is just an unpleasant consequence of difficult European negotiations. “
The UK government is also facing urgent appeals to provide support for children. Labor peer Alf Dubs, a former refugee child and safe routes campaigner, wrote Home Secretary Priti Patel, asking him to bring some of the minors made homeless by the blaze back to the UK.
Lord Dubs wrote: “A terrible tragedy is unfolding in Moria camp. The UK government must intervene immediately and provide safety for unaccompanied children who now survive in the open. The issue of safe routes for refugee children has always received support from all parties and after this horrific fire the government cannot continue to sidestep the issue by insisting that children are safe in Europe. This shows beyond any doubt that children are not safe.
“Whether in a camp on the Greek island or in the north of France, children are at extreme risk and need our help now. Not to act would be a scandal. “
The crisis in Lesvos intensifies the debate in the United Kingdom around laws on family reunification for unaccompanied minors. EU laws that allow minors to have their application transferred to the UK if they have family in the country will end when the Brexit transition period ends on December 31.
Dubs is leading efforts to protect family reunification with an amendment to the Immigration Bill. He is currently before the House of Lords after being rejected by the government.
The Safe Passage charity said children were stranded in Lesvos despite having already been approved for a transfer to the UK to join their immediate family.
Association lawyer Stefania Tomasini said: “I spoke with our client Ahmed who was accepted for a family reunion in May and never heard him so upset. He said that even the war in Syria was better than the situation in Moria. He has lost everything and does not know where to eat or sleep.