Germans gathered by the hundred at train stations on Sunday to welcome refugees arriving in their cities as if they were long-lost friends or returning war heroes.
An estimated 10,000 refugees were expected to arrive in Germany by train from Hungary and Austria on Sunday, and they were greeted with spontaneous rounds of applause and songs, as well as sweets, pastries, and toys, on station platforms across the country.
At Munich station, volunteers amassed a large stockpile of food. Helpers at the main train station in Frankfurt formed human chains to pass bags of food, clothing, and toiletries to the exhausted arrivals, whom they welcomed with banners and balloons.
Others clutched placards bearing the words ‘We love refugees’, while graffiti artists painted ‘a warm welcome’ in Arabic on the side of a train in Dresden.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, last week announced that Germany would grant asylum to all Syrians in the country, a move credited with hastening the exodus from the east. The country expects to take up to 800,000 refugees this year.
The interior ministry on Sunday night warned other states must still abide by the rules on processing – and therefore looking after – asylum seekers. It warned that “the big willingness to help, which Germany has shown in the last weeks and months, should not be overstretched.”
Last week there were chaotic scenes in Budapest when Hungarian police attempted to stop migrants from taking trains over the border, citing European rules that state migrants must be processed where they arrive.
But on Sunday a convoy of around 140 Austrian and German drivers set off from Vienna, determined to bring people waiting in Budapest back in their family cars.
Ola Almasalmeh, 25, arrived in Munich station on Saturday night, which teemed with revellers dressed in the traditional Bavarian costume of Dirndl and Lederhosen. She had travelled for a month from Syria.
“I feel very safe here,” she told the Telegraph. “I don’t want to go to another country. I like Merkel, she has a big heart.”
Matteo Palenberg, aged 11, took a bowl of sweets he had collected over a year to hand out to children arriving at Munich station.
His father Markus, 45, said the treatment of refugees in Hungary was “shameful” and said that he liked that Germany was no longer being seen as the “bad people in Europe” following Mrs. Merkel’s hardball approach to the Greek financial crisis.
But he added that because of Germany’s hospitality, “the downside is that I’m afraid that it will create a huge second wave [of migrants]” who aren’t genuinely seeking asylum.
Those arriving in Bavaria are promptly allocated new homes in states across Germany. On Saturday night, some 350 were dispatched to Berlin, 700 to Braunschweig and 460 to Frankfurt.
On Sunday morning, police in Bavaria announced that many trains carrying refugees would no longer be stopping there, with several heading directly to places like Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Baden-Württemberg.
In Dortmund, the less accommodating face of German society was shown. On Saturday night, 29 supporters of the far-right party “Die Rechte” staged a protest rally at the central station in Dortmund when a train carrying almost 1,000 migrants arrived.
Three police officers were injured and four people were arrested in ensuing clashes.
In Rome, Pope Francis announced he will shelter two refugee families at the Vatican and said all parishes, convents, and monasteries across Europe should do the same.
He said: “Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who are fleeing death by war and by hunger, and who are on a path toward a hope for life, the Gospel calls us to be neighbours to the smallest and most abandoned, to give them concrete hope.
But while scenes of kindness and generosity were being played out across much of Germany, the picture in Greece was less harmonious on Sunday.
Soldiers and police were dispatched to Lesbos, the holiday island that threatens to become the latest flashpoint in the migrant crisis, and now resembles an African transit camp where 20,000 migrants live in squalid conditions, with nowhere to sleep or wash.
The United Nations refugee agency called on Sunday for “exceptional measures” to speed up the registration of thousands of refugees stranded on the island.
Amid growing tension and two nights of clashes between police and refugees, two extra riot squads arrived on the island while 60 more regular ordinary police officers were also sent.
There were reports that a pair of locals on a motorbike threw two Molotov cocktails at refugees sleeping in a park in the island’s main town, Mytilene.
Some of the refugees have been stuck on the island for two weeks or more, waiting for the Greek authorities to issue them with travel permits that will allow them to board ferries to Athens.
Photo: Getty Images
Lesbos is the entry point for around half of the 230,000 who have arrived in Greece so far this year.
“The registration process is very slow, due to lack of resources in the Greek police and coast guard. We need to reduce the congestion. People are arriving every day and there are not enough ferries to take them to Athens, to the point where it’s a crisis. They are extremely frustrated,” Alessandra Morelli, the UNHCR representative on the island, told The Telegraph.
Spyros Galinos, the mayor of Lesbos, also called for more ferries to alleviate the acute crisis on the island. He has described the situation as a bomb about to explode in his hands.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, faced criticism after saying Israel could not cope with refugees. “Israel is a small country, a very small country, that lacks demographic and geographic depth; therefore, we must control our borders against illegal migrants and terrorism,” he said.
Isaac Herzog, the opposition leader, urged him to let some Syrians in. “Have you forgotten what it’s like to be Jews, refugees, hunted?” he wrote on Facebook.
Iran, meanwhile, praised the EU’s willingness to take refugees. The Islamic Republic is a major sponsor of Bashar al-Assad, whose forces are behind much of the violence that has forced four million Syrians from their country.