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‘Mama Merkel’ Cheered by Syrian Refugees

by AFP
Bernd Von Jutrczenka-DPA—AFP

Bernd Von Jutrczenka-DPA—AFP

German chancellor confident Berlin can handle influx of thousands of refugees.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a hero’s welcome as she visited a Berlin migrant center on Thursday, with Syrians cheering and taking selfies as Germany threw open its doors to thousands of refugees.

“We are so happy Mrs. Merkel came to see us today,” said a joyful Ramzan Salah, a 35-year-old Syrian Kurdish refugee the migrant refugee center in western Berlin. “She is like a mother to us, she has helped many refugees,” he said. “It’s a dream come true for me to take my picture with Mrs. Merkel.”

As thousands continue to flee bloodshed in Syria, Iraq and beyond, Germany is expected to welcome 800,000 asylum-seekers this year, four times the number in 2014 and far more than any other European country.

As Europe’s largest economy flung open its doors, some 20,000 refugees were cheered last weekend as they arrived on trains from Hungary via Austria before being transferred to registration centers across the country. News that Germany had suspended the E.U.’s so-called Dublin rules for Syrians spread quickly amongst the community. The rules require refugees to return to the first E.U. country they entered in order to stake an asylum claim.

So far this year, 450,000 refugees have arrived in Germany, including 37,000 in the first eight days of this month, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told parliament on Thursday.

As she visited a school for children from migrant backgrounds, Merkel expressed confidence that Germany could handle the historic influx. “If every day thousands of refugees are coming to Berlin, then that’s a huge challenge,” she said. “But I have the impression there is an incredible motivation, that there is a lot of enthusiasm to cope with this incredible challenge,” she said of the refugees. “We want to give them a good future.”

With thousands arriving every day, refugees are being housed in old schools, office blocks and even army barracks, with the army saying it was putting up 14,500 refugees in 41 locations. Another 5,000 are staying on a large former U.S. military base in Giessen in the central state of Hesse, with over a thousand of them staying in large tents, each of which houses 70 to 80 people.

At the camp, hoards of children were playing football and riding bicycles while others were inline skating as adults sat in groups on the lawn in the late-summer sunshine, as laundry dried on nearby fences.

“School is good, Germany is very good,” said one man, aged about 40. “We are happy here, please don’t send us back,” said a 30-year-old Afghan man who also did not give his name.

With autumn coming and temperatures dropping fast, the biggest challenge was “to get people out of tents,” said state social affairs minister Stefan Gruettner, holding up a child’s picture of a heart colored in the black, red and gold of the German flag. “It sent a shiver down my spine,” he said.

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