Refugees greeted with cheers and food as they enter Germany

Two Syrian children sharing a stuffed toy given to them by wellwishers after they arrived by train from Budapest, Hungary, at Frankfurt airport's railway station in Germany early yesterday morning.
Two Syrian children sharing a stuffed toy given to them by wellwishers after they arrived by train from Budapest, Hungary, at Frankfurt airport's railway station in Germany early yesterday morning.PHOTO: REUTERS

MUNICH (Germany) • Germany yesterday readied for hundreds more refugees to arrive from Hungary via Austria, a day after thousands were greeted, often by volunteers holding signs that read "Welcome to Germany".

The most populous European Union nation - which this year expects to take in a record 800,000 people fleeing war and poverty - has seen an unprecedented volunteer effort to help the newcomers.

On Saturday alone, about 8,000 migrants crossed German borders, federal police said. In Munich, refugee families holding their children and few belongings smiled as they were greeted with cheers, food and bottles of water by crowds.

At the Munich railway station, about 6,800 arrived on Saturday alone, said Bavarian state officials. As refugees got off trains, police directed them to waiting buses to take them to temporary shelters, which have been set up in public buildings, hotels and army barracks across the country.

Dozens of people, standing behind barriers, whistled, clapped and filmed the newcomers with their mobile phones.

"The people here treat us so well, they treat us like real human beings, not like in Syria," said Mr Mohammad, 32, from the devastated town of Qusayr, eyes welling up with tears as he spoke.

While Germany has seen a spate of ugly xenophobic rallies and attacks against foreigners, it has also seen an outpouring of support, donations and volunteer efforts by people who believe Germany, given its dark history and current wealth, has a special obligation to help refugees.

At Frankfurt railway station, food, water and clothes were piled high overnight for the newcomers, while hundreds of people thronged the platforms. When the doors of the trains opened, people cheered and whistled and a chant went up in English: "Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here."

A German volunteer, Ms Silvia Reinschmiedt, who runs a local school, could not stay at home.

"I said to myself, I have to do something," she said as she handed out warm drinks.

One man, an Egyptian, who gave his name as Mustafa and said he had been living in Frankfurt for 20 years, was carrying an Arabic-language cardboard sign which he said spelled "warm welcome".

Ms Lara Sabbagh, a volunteer for an organisation called Kleeblatt, acted as a translator for some of the Syrian refugees.

She told bystanders to stop taking photos, saying: "They're afraid. They say they've just fled from their country and their ruler and don't want to be photographed."

She added that many of the migrants "didn't understand all the commotion here". "They asked me, 'What are all these people doing here? What do they want?'

"They didn't understand that people were here to welcome them."

Meanwhile, Pope Francis called on every European parish and religious community yesterday to take in one migrant family each in a gesture of solidarity that he said would start in the tiny Vatican state where he lives. "I appeal to the parishes, the religious communities, the monasteries and sanctuaries of all Europe to... take in one family of refugees," he said after his Sunday address in the Vatican.

The Pope's call went out to more than 25,000 parishes in Italy alone, and more than 12,000 in Germany.

His call came as Britain promised to take in 15,000 refugees from Syria and Australia said it would welcome a higher portion of Syrian refugees without increasing its annual refugee intake.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2015, with the headline 'Refugees greeted with cheers and food as they enter Germany'. Print Edition | Subscribe