Germany: Education unionists call for solidarity with refugees during the COVID-19 crisis

published 2 April 2020 updated 6 April 2020

A German education union has joined the “Leave No One Behind” campaign which seeks the immediate evacuation of overcrowded refugee camps at the EU's external borders. The campaign argues that the situation of refugees has been made worse by the COVID-19 crisis.

Solidarity must not end at national borders

Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW) is supporting the “Leave No One Behind” campaign, run by Global Citizen to highlight the plight of refugees who have been left exposed to the pandemic in Europe’s refugee camps.

Around 42,000 refugees are living in camps on the Greek islands where any attempt to contain or even slow a possible COVID-19 outbreak would fail, said GEW President Marlis Tepe.

“Solidarity must not end at national borders, but applies to everyone – regardless of origin, religion, age, gender or residence status,” she insisted. “Human rights are indivisible.”

GEW is endorsing the demands of civil society that the refugee camps be evacuated immediately, and that humanitarian aid be provided.

Tepe also criticised the suspension of the right to asylum and the hesitant attitude of EU governments to accept those in need of protection. She said the conditions in so-called “hotspots” were catastrophic even before the coronavirus pandemic.

Death traps

The refugee camps in Greece are threatening to become “death traps”, according to Pro Asyl, a German non-governmental organisation that advocates for the rights of refugees and migrants in Germany and Europe. The camps are completely overcrowded, there is extremely limited access to water, and the hygienic and medical care and infrastructure are extremely poor. Vital protective measures – such as keeping safe distances from others and regular hand washing – are simply impossible in these camps.

Admit refugees

Tepe called on the German Federal Government to act on its promise and implement its 9 March decision to admit up to 1,500 particularly vulnerable children. While this is far from enough, she said, the GEW is urging public authorities to ensure that further help is provided immediately to offer adequate protection to refugees.

The GEW leader also highlighted the willingness of 141 German municipalities and cities that formed an alliance to become “safe harbours”,  declaring #WeHaveSpace. The “Can’t Wash My Hands” initiative(in German) has also provided interested people with a platform for action and networking to support the demands and activities in camps.