BERLIN (Reuters) - An irate local politician from Germany’s southern state of Bavaria took a bus carrying 31 refugees to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office in Berlin on Thursday as a protest against her open-door refugee policy.
The Syrians, escorted by police, arrived after a 550-kilometre trip outside Merkel’s office, where a dozen German protesters, unconnected with them, were chanting “Merkel must go” in protest at her line on immigration.
Peter Dreier, head of the southeastern town of Landshut, acted on a threat he made to Merkel last year when he said his municipality could no longer cope with the number of arrivals.
“I think that we have to ensure the humane treatment of these refugees,” Dreier said upon his arrival in the capital, travelling on the bus with the refugees.
“On this scale and within such a short time we simply can’t guarantee that any more.”
Authorities in Landshut had arranged for the refugees to be transferred into the hands of local authorities in Berlin. They did not get off the bus for an hour amid confusion over what accommodation had been arranged. Only asylum centres appeared to be available.
“I am a little disappointed since I’ve been in touch with the Chancellery and didn’t expect the refugees to be sheltered at camps here in Berlin,” Dreier said.
German newspaper “Die Welt” reported that Dreier eventually decided to pay for the refugees’ immediate accommodation at a hotel out of his own pocket.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert issued a statement in response to Dreier, saying that accommodating the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have entered Germany in recent months was the responsibility of federal states and municipalities.
“The government is aware that the current number of refugees is posing significant challenges throughout Germany and especially in Bavaria,” Seibert said, adding that additional financial support was being provided to communities this year.
Dreier represents the Freie Waehler, a loose grouping of politicians who do not have a common policy, but campaign on individual issues.
Merkel is under increasing pressure to stem the flow of migrants coming to Germany. Some 1.1 million people arrived last year and several thousand continue to stream in every day and there has been a backlash by right-wing groups.
Mass sexual assaults on women in Cologne at New Year by gangs of young men described by police as being of Arab or North African in appearance, have deepened worries.
The frustration in Bavaria, the main entry point for most migrants, is especially strong with Merkel’s conservative allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), repeatedly calling on her to introduce a formal cap on migrant numbers. She has resisted such a cap, arguing it would be impossible to enforce.
Reporting by Reuters Television and Tina Bellon; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Andrew Roche