Protesters in Groningen demand the government take in more refugees after fire destroys Moria camp


Sit-in demonstration on Sunday, 13 September, in the central square of Grote Markt in Groningen, the Netherlands. Photograph: Margherita Capacci

After a fire left some 13,000 migrants from the Moria refugee camp in Greece homeless, protesters across Europe appealed to their governments to do more for the victims. In the northern Dutch city of Groningen, too, demonstrators demanded that their government take in more migrants.

“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” chanted the people taking part in the sit-in organized by 10 local organizations on 13 September, to demand that the national government evacuates Moria.

Originally built for 3,000 people, the refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos was housing around 13,000, now sleeping rough, after a series of fires starting on 8 September burnt their shelters to the ground.

The Netherlands, together with Germany, France, and several other EU countries, has agreed to take in some of the migrants affected by the fire. However, a series of protests have taken place throughout the country against the decision of the central government to relocate only 100 people, of which 50 are unaccompanied minors, out of the 500 children that many Dutch municipalities have said they are willing to welcome.

“They are people, we are people, let us open up” said Ester Koens, member of the Groningen Refugee Committee, one of the organizers of the Sunday sit-in, “it feels like the urgency isn’t clear”.

It is the responsibility of EU countries to open their borders and protect human beings and their rights, as stated in the Geneva Convention, said Zoia Albert, the president of the organization Groningen Welcomes.

However, opposing parties often argue that there is not enough space in the Netherlands. Ton Van Kesteren, representing the Party for Freedom in the city council of Groningen and member of the Senate of the Netherlands, wrote in a text that “the Netherlands have done enough in the past”. “The mass immigration is not good for one of the most densely populated countries in the world” he wrote, “if the whole world is welcome in your country, the country is going under”.

Other citizens of Groningen share this idea. “We can’t take more than we have the space for” said Jeffrey de Boer, interviewed in front of the café in the city center where he works. According to the young man, it would be better to invest time and resources in building a new camp in Moria, instead of taking more people in times of coronavirus.

But Ester Koens did not agree. She shook her head: “There are lot of people willing to open their houses for people too, so it’s not full” she said.

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