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Germany Leads Way In Welcoming Refugees

Residents welcome a bus of refugees arriving in Kiel, Germany on September 2.
Residents welcome a bus of refugees arriving in Kiel, Germany on September 2.

Thousands of refugees arriving by train to their dream destination -- Germany –- are receiving an outpouring of support from German officials and citizens.

With shouts of "We love you, Germany" and "Thank you, Germany," nearly 3,000 people, hailing mainly from Syria and Afghanistan, were given food and water while children were handed toys as they disembarked from trains in Munich on September 1.

The refugees -- many of whom traveled thousands of kilometers across the Mediterranean Sea, through the Balkans, and past razor-wire barriers and truncheon-wielding police in Hungary in order to reach Germany -- were overjoyed at the warm reception they received.

The generosity from the citizens of the Bavarian capital for the refugees and migrants was so overwhelming that police posted messages on social media urging them to stop bringing food, clothes, toys, and other items to central Munich's main train station.

The reception for the refugees in Germany -- a scene repeated at train stations in Stuttgart and Frankfurt -- was quite different from the experience most had in Hungary, where officials tried everything to keep them out of the country and otherwise prevent them from proceeding on their journey to Germany and other more prosperous EU countries.

Those measures included closing Budapest's main train station on September 1-2.

Those who escaped Hungary and made their way to Austria also got a much warmer reception, with officials and dozens of volunteers welcoming the refugees in the capital, Vienna.

"If we were not helping it would be a catastrophe," Yannis Bitsios, a 74-year-old Viennese pensioner dishing out noodles for refugees, told RFE/RL on September 1. "In fact it already is [a catastrophe]. We simply have to do something [to help the refugees]. This is what the state should be doing, but who is the state? We ourselves are the state."

Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter said he was "proud" of his city’s reaction to the crisis. He said people came with bags of food and other items and that some supermarkets also delivered truckloads of goods.

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The wave of refugees entering the country has also gained the support of German entertainers, with actor Til Schweiger and rock singer Udo Lindenberg urging their countrymen to be tolerant.

'Mama Merkel'

Even Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning soccer team issued a video condemning xenophobic attacks on refugees and calling for "respect" and "integration" for asylum seekers.

Bayern Munich striker Thomas Mueller said that, although a solution needs to be found to the refugee crisis, "first of all our duty is to help people."

The large support shown by the German people for the refugees mirrors the attitude of the country's chancellor, Angela Merkel.

"The world sees Germany as a country of hope and of chances. That hasn't always been the case," said Merkel, in reference to the country's Nazi past.

She also praised the refugees who had "braved such hardship to come here."

However, Merkel's support in welcoming an expected 800,000 asylum seekers and migrants into the country this year is not shared by all Germans, as dozens of protesters shouted "traitor" and "slut" at her as she visited a home for refugees near the eastern city of Dresden last week.

But that same tolerant view has led to Merkel being lionized by Syrians.

Facebook pages have been created by Syrians with such titles as "Mama Merkel, Mother of the Outcasts" and "Compassionate Mother."

Syrian refugee Hashem Alsuki told The Guardian on September 1 that Merkel is "the savior of Syria's children from the hell of war and extremism. All Syrians love Merkel and her courage."

Merkel's compassion for refugees inspired 26-year-old Ophelya Ade -- who crossed the Mediterranean while several months pregnant earlier this year before gaining asylum in Germany -– to name her baby girl Angela Merkel because she was "grateful" and "relieved" that the chancellor was "accepting us."

But Merkel has also called issued a stern call for other countries to provide greater help in dealing with the stream of refugees and migrants pouring into Europe.

She said Germany cannot continue to take on such a large portion of the burden of housing refugees.

Germany is estimated to be accepting some 40 percent of all asylum seekers entering Europe.

"The countries of Europe have to share the responsibility of caring for asylum seekers," she warned.

Weak Response

Some countries have reacted to Merkel's plea.

A weak response from the government in Iceland led to a grassroots effort to force officials in the small island country to accept more refugees.

Iceland -- a country of slightly more than 300,000 people -- has said the maximum number of refugees it will accept is 50.

That low number caused author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir to issue a call to her compatriots on Facebook on August 30 asking them to express support for Iceland to bring in more refugees.

"Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our soulmates, the drummer for the band of our children, our next colleague, [and] Miss Iceland 2022," she wrote.

More than 14,000 people responded to her Syria Is Calling Facebook page, many of them offering their homes to a refugee until they could get settled in Iceland.

Icelandic Prime Minister Simundur David Gunnlaugsson said afterward he was conscious of the public pressure for his government to accept more refugees.

An anemic response to the refugee problem by the British government led former Foreign Secretary David Miliband to urge more refugees be accepted by Britain, which took in some 10,000 refugees last year, far fewer than most other affluent European countries.

"There needs to be some burden-sharing...bigger countries taking more people than smaller countries, richer countries taking more people than poorer countries," said Miliband, who heads the U.S.-based International Rescue Committee, in an interview with The Guardian.

Germany, France, and Britain have called for EU-member interior and justice ministers to meet in mid-September to work out new responses to the immense flow of refugees, which shows no signs of slowing down.