Tens of thousands of Europeans hit the streets Saturday in both support and opposition to incoming refugees, as overwhelmed authorities in the German city of Munich pleaded for help in accommodating a fresh wave of arrivals.
With Germany seen as the promised land by many of those seeking safe haven in Europe, more than 9,000 migrants poured into the Bavarian capital on Saturday alone.
More were expected to arrive overnight, prompting local officials to warn the southern city was being stretched to the limit and would struggle to find beds for all the newcomers.
As the continent scrambles to respond to the biggest movement of people since World War II, sharp divisions have emerged between the European Union’s 28 member states, at both a government level and on the streets.
In London, tens of thousands marched through the capital waving placards saying “Refugee lives matter” and “No human being is illegal.”
Britain’s newly elected Labour party leader and veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn drew huge cheers when he addressed the crowd from the back of a truck.
“Open your hearts and open your minds,” the opposition chief said, “towards supporting people who are desperate, who need somewhere safe to live, want to contribute to our society, and are human beings just like all of us.”
In Copenhagen, 30,000 people turned out to express solidarity with asylum seekers, while similar rallies drew thousands onto the streets in Madrid and Hamburg.
“I want to support the refugees,” said Deborah Flatley at the London demo, holding up a homemade sign reading: “We admire your bravery. You deserve a safe and happy life. We welcome you here with open arms.”
A boy dressed as Paddington Bear — the marmalade-loving migrant who arrived at London’s Paddington Station from “deepest, darkest Peru” in Michael Bond’s famous books — clutched a sign saying: “Paddington Bear Was A Refugee.”
In Berlin, demonstrators waved a Syrian flag with “Refugees Welcome” written on it, while rallies in Stockholm, Helsinki and Lisbon each attracted around 1,000 people.
But at the same time, thousands took to the streets in eastern Europe to voice their opposition to the influx, their numbers dwarfing those attending a handful of pro-migrant rallies.
“Islam will be the death of Europe” chanted protesters at a rally in Warsaw which was attended by nearly 5,000 people and began with prayers identifying many marchers as Roman Catholics.
Hundreds also demonstrated in Prague and in the Slovak capital Bratislava, some holding banners reading: “You’re not welcome here so go home.”
The International Organization for Migration said Friday that more than 430,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, with 2,748 dying en route or going missing.
The emergency has exposed deep rifts with the EU, with “frontline” states Italy, Greece and Hungary buckling under the strain and European Commission proposals for sharing 160,000 of the new arrivals in a quota scheme facing resistance from eastern members.
Germany has so far taken the lion’s share, admitting 450,000 people this year, with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to relax asylum rules for Syrians drawing praise from the refugees, but also sharp criticism from domestic allies and counterparts abroad.
In Munich — where the number of people, many of them Syrian refugees, expected to arrive from Vienna by the end of Saturday alone was set to hit an estimated 13,000 — regional officials sounded the alarm and urged other German states to do their bit.
“We no longer know what to do with refugees,” mayor Dieter Reiter said, amid fears many of the new arrivals would have to spend the night outdoors.
“Munich and Bavaria can’t overcome this great challenge alone,” a spokeswoman for the Bavarian authorities added.
Hungary meanwhile was working around the clock to finish a controversial anti-migrant fence along its southern border with Serbia.
Hungary has seen some 180,000 people entering illegally this year and has passed a raft of tough new laws that will take effect on Tuesday, meaning anyone crossing the border illegally can be deported or even jailed.
“These migrants are not coming our way from war zones but from camps in Syria’s neighbors… So these people are not fleeing danger and don’t need to be scared for their lives,” hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Germany’s Bild daily.
He said that Merkel’s decision to relax asylum laws had caused “chaos” and accused European leaders of “living in a dream world.”
The idea that quotas would work is an “illusion,” he said. “The influx is endless: from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Ethiopia, Nigeria. If they are all going to come here, then Europe is going to go under.”
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