Munich buckles under strain of refugee influx

Munich buckles under strain of refugee influx

Authorities in Munich said they were overwhelmed by the influx of refugees streaming into the Bavarian capital, with more than 10,000 arriving on Saturday, & urged other German cities to pull their weight.

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

In Munich, where more people were expected to arrive overnight Saturday-Sunday, regional officials have sounded the alarm & urged other states in Germany — seen as the promised land by many of those seeking safe haven in Europe — to do their bit.

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

Reiter added that he was "very concerned with the developments" noting that if other areas took in several hundred refugees it would "help to avoid chaos".

"Munich & Bavaria can't overcome this tremendous challenge alone," a spokeswoman for the Bavarian authorities said, adding the city was struggling to find beds for all the additional people.

As the newcomers arrived, some onlookers at Munich station held welcome signs to greet them. But there were far fewer than several days ago when cheering volunteers handed out groceries & 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 European Union's 28 member states, at both a government level & on the streets.

– Rival protests –

Munich made its appeal for assist as tens of thousands of Europeans held rallies in both support of & opposition to refugees.

Tens of thousands marched through London waving placards saying "Refugee lives matter" & "No human being is illegal".

Britain's newly elected Labour Party leader & veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn drew huge cheers when he addressed the crowd from the back of a truck.

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

In Copenhagen, 30,000 people turned out to express solidarity with asylum seekers, while similar rallies drew thousands in Madrid & Hamburg.

"I want to support the refugees," said Deborah Flatley at the London demo, holding up a homemade sign reading: "We admire your bravery. You deserve a safe & pleased life. We welcome you here with open arms".

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".

In Berlin, demonstrators waved a Syrian flag with "Refugees Welcome" written on it, while rallies in Stockholm, Helsinki & Lisbon each attracted around 1,000 people.

– 'Go home' –

But at the same time, thousands took to the streets in eastern Europe 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 & began with prayers identifying many marchers as Roman Catholics.

Hundreds moreover demonstrated in Prague & in the Slovak capital Bratislava, some holding banners reading: "You're not welcome here so go home".

The International Organization for Migration said Friday 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 with the EU, with "frontline" states Italy, Greece & Hungary buckling under the strain & European Commission proposals for sharing 160,000 of the new arrivals in a quota scheme facing resistance from eastern members.

– Nazi era comparison –

Hungary meanwhile was working around the clock to complete a controversial anti-migrant fence along its southern border with Serbia.

Hungary has seen some 180,000 people entering illegally this year & has passed a raft of tough new laws that will take effect on Tuesday, meaning anyone crossing the border illegally can be deported or even jailed.

"These migrants are not coming our way from war zones yet from camps in Syria's neighbours… So these people are not fleeing danger & don't need to be scared for their lives," hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Germany's Bild daily.

He said Merkel's decision to relax asylum laws had caused "chaos" & accused European leaders of "living in a dream world".

The idea that quotas would work is an "illusion," he said. "The influx is endless: from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Ethiopia, Nigeria. If they are all going to come here, then Europe is going to go under."

Austria's chancellor however slammed its neighbour, comparing Orban's treatment of migrants to Nazi-era cruelty.

"Piling refugees on trains in the hopes that they go far far away brings back memories of the darkest period of our continent," Werner Faymann told German weekly Der Spiegel.

Source: “AFP”