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September 15, 2020

Towards an EU-run refugee camp

The German government will decide this week how many refugees it will accept, out of the 12,000 left homeless by a fire in the Moria camp on Lesbos. Bild Zeitung also reported that Merkel, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Ursula von der Leyen are working on a proposal to rebuild the camp and have the European Union operate it. This would be a first.

Reports already confirmed that 10 EU countries agreed to take the 400 unaccompanied minors from the camp. This seems tiny compared to the thousands who lost their homes and belongings in the fire. The inhumane living conditions in Moria camp had been known for years, yet it took a disaster to prompt action. For politicians the decision is a double-edged sword. Even if it is morally right to take in the migrants, it should not set a precedent for similar fires to be caused elsewhere. 

Bild writes Merkel is leaning towards taking in children with families, possibly thousands of migrants, while insisting that this is a one-off gesture. This line is disputed, however. Horst Seehofer, the interior minister from the CSU, has been reluctant to take in more than 100-150 unaccompanied minors. He keeps insisting that doing more requires an EU effort first. There are also critical voices within the CDU like Jens Spahn, health minister, or Michael Kretschmer, president of Saxony. They do not want to see a repeat of 2015, when Germany was first to welcome migrants arriving at the Greek shores while other EU countries dragged their feet.  

An EU-run refugee camp would be a first step for Germany towards ending the hypocrisy that arriving migrants are a problem only for Greece, and not for the whole European Union. How to go on from there will likely entail a battle among the member states. Austria's prime minister already decided not to take any of the migrants this time, even if that puts him at odds with his Green coalition partner. At the moment, just 10 out of 27 member states are ready to step in and help. There is still a long way to go to get a common EU migration policy up and running.

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