BERLIN (AFP) – German local officials on Thursday sent a bus with 51 Syrian refugees on board to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office in Berlin, in a protest against her migrant policy.
The district administrator behind the road trip, Peter Dreier, said his rural area was buckling under the strain of a mass influx that brought 1.1 million refugees and irregular migrants to Germany last year.
The coach, filled with refugees aged 21 to 45, left the Bavarian town of Landshut around 0900 GMT for the 570 kilometre (350 mile) trip to the capital and was expected to arrive at the chancellory building in the late afternoon.
Local citizens had told him “it’s time we set a limit,” he said on news TV channel N24. “We are trying to help these people integrate. But that won’t work if this year we face another wave of one million, or even more.”
“That’s why it’s time to take a stand, so that politicians change their tune,” he said, adding that he had warned Merkel about his plans for such a journey in a phone call last October.
“Look at what is happening abroad, other EU member countries are turning away from us, it can’t go on like this,” he said.
The head of refugee support group Pro Asyl, Guenther Burkhardt, charged that with the trip, “people are being exploited for the sake of media footage”.
‘Ability to cope’
“This doesn’t solve the problems… this is a stunt that misuses the plight of refugees to send the message ‘We want to close the borders’.”
Dreier said in a statement his district was running 66 migrant facilities, including shelters for unaccompanied minors.
The 51 Syrians on the bus, all of whom had been granted asylum status, had volunteered to join the trip, he said.
It was not immediately clear if the Syrians would stay in Berlin or return to Bavaria.
They were legally free to live anywhere in Germany but now had to find apartments, which would be tough in prosperous Landshut, the district said in a statement.
Speaking to public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk, Dreier said: “There is no end in sight to the wave of refugees, and our country’s ability to house them in a dignified way is deteriorating rapidly. And I don’t see new apartments being built for the immigrants.”
Merkel has been praised for opening Germany’s doors to those fleeing war and misery, but has also weathered harsh criticism, especially from southern Bavaria state, the main gateway for arriving migrants.
The mood in Germany has darkened further since New Year’s Eve, when hundreds of women were groped and robbed in a throng of mostly Arab and North African men outside the main railway station of the western city of Cologne.
Dreier said that “more and more people have lost confidence, even before the events at New Year’s Eve in Cologne, in their state and its institutions’ ability to cope”.
“If we don’t finally take the concerns and needs of our citizens very seriously, the social peace in our country is at risk.”