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Angela Merkel's Syrian Refugee Policy Tested in German Local Elections of March 13, 2016

March 13, 2016 


Syrian refugee camp near the Greek Macedonian border, March 12, 2016 German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, faces a test of her Syrian refugee policy in local elections, which will be held on March 13, 2016 reut

Greece steps up efforts to move migrants to sheltered camps

Reuters, Saturday, March 12, 2016, 9:34pm EST

ATHENS/IDOMENI | By Lefteris Karagiannopoulos and Phoebe Fronista

Greece steps up efforts to move migrants to sheltered camps | Reuters

Greece increased efforts on Saturday to move thousands of migrants near the border with Macedonia to sheltered camps, as the spread of infection became a concern with two people in a sprawling tent city diagnosed with Hepatitis A.

Stranded in filthy conditions at a muddy tent city near the northern border town of Idomeni, at least 12,000 people, among them thousands of children, were waiting to cross the frontier although Macedonia and other nations along the so-called Western Balkan route have closed their borders.

Scuffles broke out at the camp in recent days as destitute people scrambled for food and firewood, while many have been sleeping in the open, often in the rain amid low temperatures.

Greece steps up efforts to move migrants to sheltered camps | Reuters

Greek authorities handed out leaflets in Idomeni on Saturday informing people that the main route to northern Europe was shut. The pamphlets urged them to move to buildings and hospitality centers across Greece that have been set aside for the purpose, according to a government official from the country's refugee crisis management coordination body.

"Our aim is not only to relieve Idomeni from the people, our aim is that no Idomeni (camp) even exists anymore. There are structures, why should people stay in the mud?" he said.

Leaflets would also be distributed in ports and on islands to discourage people from going up to Idomeni, the government official said.

"Greece will offer you accommodation, food and healthcare," read the leaflets which were written in Arabic, Farsi and Pashtun.

Deputy Defence Minister Dimitris Vitsas, in charge of coordinating Greek efforts to tackle the refugee crisis, said 400 people were moved from Idomeni to camps on Friday and the numbers would increase in the coming days.

"Many of them are waiting for a decision by the (EU) summit on March 17. We are saying that regardless of this decision, there are three camps very close (to shelter them)," he told Greek Mega television.

EU leaders and Turkey are due to meet again on Thursday and Friday to seal a deal to try to stem illegal migrant flows from Turkey to Europe through Greece.

The squalid, overcrowded conditions of the camp in Idomeni have given rise to infections. A nine-year old Syrian girl was diagnosed with Hepatitis A on Friday, according to Greece's disease control agency.

According to the World Health Organization, Hepatitis A is a virus which is transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and water, or through direct contact with an infectious person. It is normally associated with lack of safe water or poor sanitation.

The girl was being treated in a stable condition, the agency said, adding that it had already taken action to prevent the disease spreading among migrants in Idomeni.

A second individual from Idomeni was diagnosed with Hepatitis A and transferred to a hospital on Saturday, a disease control official told Reuters.

To ensure water quality, seven water transportation vehicles, three deployed by the Greek army, started operating in Idomeni, the government said in an announcement late on Saturday.

In the last 24 hours, 629 more people have arrived on Greek islands from Turkey, with the total number of migrants and refugees stuck in the country reaching about 41,000, government data showed.

(Additional reporting by Alexandros Avramidis, Writing by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Andrew Bolton)


Merkel crosses fingers before German 'Super Sunday' regional polls

Reuters, Saturday, March 12, 2016, 6:13pm EST

BERLIN | By Paul Carrel

Merkel crosses fingers before German 'Super Sunday' regional polls | Reuters

Germans vote in three regional state elections on Sunday, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives at risk of setbacks that would weaken her just as she tries to push through a deal to resolve Europe's migrant crisis.

Migration is the hot topic, as worry how Germany will cope with an influx, totaling more than a million last year alone, that has come to define Merkel's leadership, and on which she has staked her reputation.

Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) have been losing support to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has profited from the growing unease.

Asked at a campaign rally on Saturday how she was preparing for Sunday's results, Merkel said: "I'm crossing my fingers."

Polls indicate that the CDU will remain the biggest party in Saxony-Anhalt, in former East Germany. In the west, it could be pipped by the Greens in Baden-Wuerttemberg, where it is currently the largest party. And in Rhineland-Palatinate, where the CDU came a close second last time, the race is too close to call.

A failure to win at least two of the three states would be a blow for Merkel just as she is trying to use her status as Europe's most powerful leader to push through an EU deal with Turkey to stem the tide of migrants.

The chancellor alarmed many European leaders at a summit earlier this week by gambling on the last-minute draft deal with Turkey to stop the migrant flow, and demanding their support.

Merkel still needs to seal the deal at another summit on March 17-18. If her party performs poorly on Sunday, she will go into that meeting weakened.

One of those draining support from Merkel's CDU is the AfD.

Already represented in five of Germany's 16 regional parliaments, the anti-immigration party looks set to burst into three more on Sunday, campaigning on slogans such as "Secure the borders" and "Stop the asylum chaos".

Polls put the AfD's support as high as 19 percent in Saxony-Anhalt, where the CDU and Social Democrats now govern in a 'grand coalition' that mirrors Merkel's federal government.

If the AfD performs as well as the polls indicate, the coalition partners may need to team up with a third party to assemble a majority - one of a number of potential 'firsts' for German politics as voter loyalties splinter.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)


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