Merkel Urges Vote For ‘Stable’ Germany As Election Looms

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during the last rally of the conservative Christian Democratic Union CDU and its Bavarian sister-party Christian Social Union CSU in Munich, southern Germany, on September 24, 2021, ahead of the German federal election on September 26. Thomas KIENZLE / AFP

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to elect her would-be successor Armin Laschet for the sake of German stability, in a strong pitch for her party as candidates made their final bid for support hours ahead of Sunday’s vote.

As hundreds of thousands of climate activists led by Greta Thunberg descended on streets across Germany to demand change and more protection for the environment, the outgoing Merkel acknowledged global warming was a major challenge.

But she said that protection was best achieved “not with bans and commands” but with technological progress, as she reminded voters that it mattered who led Europe’s biggest power.

In a strong appeal to a predominantly older electorate, Merkel said: “To keep Germany stable, Armin Laschet must become chancellor, and the CDU and CSU must be the strongest force.”

The candidate of Merkel’s CDU-CSU alliance, Laschet, 60, has been trailing his Social Democrat challenger Olaf Scholz in the race for the chancellery.

But final polls place Scholz’s SPD at 25 percent and Laschet’s conservatives at 22 percent, putting the gap between them well within the margin of error, making the vote one of the most unpredictable in recent years.

The Greens, polling in the mid-teens, were in third place, with a clear likelihood of being part of Germany’s next coalition government as a junior partner.

In the race for votes, Scholz, Germany’s current finance minister, said it was time for a “fresh start for Germany” after 16 years of Merkel at the top.

“We need a change of government and we want an SPD-led government,” he said.

Not Enough

But even the change promised by Scholz or the Greens was not enough, Thunberg told cheering Fridays for Future youth supporters outside the Reichstag parliament building, stressing that they needed to hold Germany’s political leaders to account past election day.

“It is clearer than ever that no political party is doing close to enough… not even their proposed commitments are close to being in line with what would be needed to fulfill the Paris Agreement” on curbing climate change, she said.

“Yes, we must vote, you must vote, but remember that voting only will not be enough. We must keep going into the streets.”

Organisers said the rallies had drawn 620,000 people to more than 470 cities and towns across the country.

“Climate is an important issue and if this continues things are going to get worse and worse,” 14-year-old Louise Herr told AFP at the Berlin protest.

Luisa Neubauer, the head of Fridays for Future’s German chapter, said the country, one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, had an outsize responsibility to set an example, with time running out to reverse destructive trends.

“That is why we are calling this the election of a century,” Neubauer told AFP.

The protest movement also hit out at Scholz, after he sent a tweet in support of Friday’s marches.

“We don’t want to spoil the good mood — but we are striking against YOUR government today, Olaf,” they wrote, referring to the SPD, which has been a junior coalition partner in three out of four Merkel governments.

Tailwinds

Around 60.4 million Germans are called to the polls on Sunday and most voters have cited climate protection among their top priorities.

While younger voters are leaning Green, under-30s only make up around 15 percent of the electorate while the above-60s make up 38 percent.

All three leading parties have said they aim to implement a climate protection agenda if elected, with the Greens presenting the most ambitious package of measures.

Greens chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, who joined one of the Fridays for Future rallies in Cologne, told Die Welt newspaper that she hoped the protests would give her party “tailwinds” heading into the vote.

“The next government has to be a climate government — that will only work with a strong Green party,” she said.

Their central demand is to limit the warming of the Earth to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) as laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

But critics have labelled the Greens a “prohibition party” that will drive up petrol, electricity and air ticket prices.

The ecologist party has advocated stopping coal energy usage by 2030 instead of the current 2038, and wants production of combustion engine cars to end from the same year.

It has slammed Merkel’s right-left government of paying only lip service to environmental protection, while seeking to maintain the status quo.

Hitting out against the transformation demanded by the Greens, Laschet on Friday instead appealed to the workers in Germany’s vital industries.

Germany must “still have a strong automobile industry, a steel industry, a chemical industry in 20 years,” he said.

“The world’s climate is not served if companies relocate, they will produce elsewhere under worse social conditions, under worse environmental conditions,” Laschet warned.

Five Jailed In ‘Horrific’ German Child Abuse Case

The main defendant (C) hides his face behind a folder as he arrives for his judgement in a child sex abuse case at court in Muenster, northwestern Germany, on July 6, 2021. – Four men were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment for repeatedly sexually assaulting children and filming the abuse in a small garden house. (Photo by Guido Kirchner / POOL / AFP)

 

Four men received lengthy prison sentences in Germany on Tuesday for taking part in the repeated sexual assault of children and filming the abuse in a case that prompted reform of paedophilia laws.

A regional court in the western city of Muenster jailed the defendants for between 10 and 14 years followed by preventive detention.

The mother of the 28-year-old main defendant was convicted of aiding and abetting the abuse and sentenced to five years in prison.

Presiding judge Matthias Pheiler expressed shock at the “horrific events” covered in the trial, calling the video recordings “deeply disturbing”.

“The proceedings also clearly showed how paedophiles operate: they trick, they lie, they manipulate those around” the victims, he said, adding that he was repulsed to see that the defendants “grinned” and even “laughed loudly” while evidence against them was presented.

Pheiler said he was relieved none of the victims had had to testify in the trial.

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The principal defendant, a computer technician identified only as Adrian V., was found to have trapped boys in a garden shed in April 2020 along with several male accomplices, drugged them and raped them repeatedly over the course of three days.

One of the victims, now 11 years old, was the son of his girlfriend.

Prosecutors presented some 30 hours of video evidence, much of which had been shared in darknet forums. The other men, aged 31 to 43, are believed to have met Adrian V. online.

The chief defendant’s mother Carina V., who owns the shed, was found to have been aware of the abuse. The court heard that she had brought the men breakfast while they took turns assaulting the children.

– Tougher punishments’ –

Police are still screening evidence uncovered from the abuse in the shed and have used it to identify suspects across Germany and abroad.

Five men have already been convicted and sentenced in connection with the case and investigators have identified 50 suspects, of whom around 30 are in custody.

The current trial began last November and the sentences were broadly in line with what prosecutors had demanded.

It is just one of a series of gruesome child abuse cases to rock the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia over the last year, prompting a tightening of legislation.

In June 2020, investigators said they were probing some 30,000 suspects as part of an investigation into a large online paedophile network linked to the city of Bergisch Gladbach.

In an earlier scandal in Luegde, 125 kilometres (80 miles) from Muenster, several men abused children hundreds of times at a campsite over a number of years.

In response to the series of cases, the German parliament in March agreed tougher punishments for using and sharing child pornography.

The law also gives police and prosecutors broader powers to monitor online communication of suspects.

AFP

German Mother On Trial For Killing Five Of Her Children

A file photo of a court gavel.
A file photo of a court gavel.

 

A 28-year-old woman went on trial in Germany on Monday accused of smothering five of her six children in the bath, in what prosecutors called a particularly “malicious” case.

The accused, identified only as Christiane K., faces a life sentence if found guilty of the murders by the district court of Wuppertal in western Germany.

The bodies of her three daughters aged one, two and three, and two sons aged six and eight were discovered in the family flat in the city of Solingen on September 3, 2020.

They were found lying on their beds, each wrapped in a towel.

Prosecutors believe the mother mixed medication into the children’s breakfast drinks to make them sleepy, before drowning or smothering them in the bath.

The woman then attempted suicide by throwing herself in front of a train at Duesseldorf station, but she was rescued and did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

Her sixth child, an 11-year-old boy, survived the grim ordeal because he was in school.

Christiane K. claims she is innocent and says a masked man entered the flat and killed the children.

According to prosecutors, investigators have found no evidence to support that claim.

The motive for the killings remains unclear but prosecutor Heribert Kaune-Gebhardt said the suspect had shortly before had a row with her estranged husband about his new girlfriend.

Prosecutors have charged Christiane K. with “malicious murder”, saying she took advantage of the children’s innocence and defencelessness.

The family was known to social services but local authorities said there had been no indication at the time the children were in danger.

AFP

German Court Suspends Sentence For Man Who Spied For Egypt

Logo of a court gavel

 

A German who spied for Egypt while he was working in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s press office was handed a suspended prison sentence of one year and nine months, a Berlin court said Wednesday.

Egypt-born Amin K., 66, admitted to having exploited his privileged position in the office to pass on information to Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) between 2010 and 2019.

“The defendant pleaded guilty”, said a spokeswoman for the regional court of appeals in Berlin.

The sentence, which was handed down last week, was the result of an agreement reached between K.’s defence lawyers and the state prosecutors.

The 66-year-old had worked since 1999 for the visitor service of the federal press office, which among other things is responsible for communicating Merkel’s activities.

According to the charge sheet, he supported the intelligence services “on behalf of the Egyptian embassy” and had “largely conspiratorial” contact with his handlers.

He made observations about media coverage of Egypt-related domestic and foreign policy issues in Germany, as well as events such as a demonstration in Berlin in 2018 and a raid on a mosque whose imam had links to Egypt.

In 2014 and 2015, he also helped in a failed attempt to recruit a translator for the German parliament’s language service as another source and handed over the names of five Syrian-born colleagues at the press office.

Investigators did not find evidence that K. was paid directly for his espionage. He allegedly hoped to win preferential treatment from the Egyptian authorities and succeeded in securing help with his mother’s claim to her pension payments.

Appearing as a witness at the trial, K.’s former manager at the press office said the 66-year-old was only responsible for sending visitor’s programmes and would not have had access to any sensitive information.

“We simply could not have imagined that he was spying for Egypt,” he told the court.

The case came to light with the publication of a German intelligence service report in 2019.

According to the report, both the GIS and Egypt’s domestic intelligence service NSS are active in Germany.

Their main objective in the country is allegedly to gather information on dissident groups opposed to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

TV Director Charged With Rape In German #Metoo Scandal

Logo of a court gavel

 

 

German prosecutors on Friday charged a prominent TV director with rape, in what could become Germany’s first high-profile #MeToo court case.

Dieter Wedel, 81, stands accused of raping an actress in a hotel room during an audition in 1996.

The accusations first emerged in January 2018 and were the first in Germany since the global #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct gained momentum in the wake of the disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s downfall.

The allegations against Wedel also took on a political dimension as a public broadcaster was hit with accusations of a cover-up.

On Friday, Munich prosecutors said the lengthy duration of its investigations was because “the facts of the case go back a long time”.

Wedel himself was heard in December 2019 on the case.

Prosecutors added that the 20-page charge sheet included testimony from 20 witnesses.

The director has denied the claims, with his lawyer Doerthe Korn saying that preliminary proceedings had been initiated against him with “an almost unprecedented public pre-judgement”.

The allegations sparked a row in Germany when it was first revealed three years ago.

In two high-profile articles, the respected weekly Die Zeit reported accusations levelled by several women against Wedel ranging from rape to pressuring female staff to have sex.

State-funded television channel Saarlaendischer Rundfunk (SR) admitted then that it was aware of sexual misconduct allegedly committed by Wedel in the 1980s and continued working with him.

Germany’s regional public broadcasters receive billions of euros (dollars) in state funds collected via viewer fees and are subject to close official oversight.

“If the accusations against Wedel are true — and based on the clarity and the sheer number of statements against him, we must assume so — then Wedel is the personification of everything the ‘Me Too’ movement denounces,” columnist Heribert Prantl wrote in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper at the time.

“Wedel may be the German Harvey Weinstein.”

German Man Charged For Spying At Parliament For Russians

 

 

German prosecutors said Thursday they have filed spying charges against a man suspected of passing floorplans of parliament to Russian secret services, in a new case that risks further inflaming tensions between Berlin and Moscow.

The suspect, a German national named only as Jens F., worked for a company that was repeatedly contracted by the Bundestag to carry out regular checks on electric equipment across parliament premises.

“Against this background, the defendant had access to PDF files with the floor plans of” parliamentary properties, said federal prosecutors.

The suspect is believed to have decided sometime in the summer of 2017 to pass on the information to Russian secret services.

“For that, he prepared a data carrier with the corresponding PDF files and sent it to an employee in the Russian embassy in Berlin, who mainly works for the Russian military secret service GRU,” said prosecutors.

The case came at a time of particularly rocky ties between Berlin and Moscow over the case of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The West has accused Russia of the Novichok poisoning of Navalny, who was treated in Berlin before he returned to Moscow last month.

Upon landing at the airport, Navalny was imprisoned, sparking demands from the West for his release.

The European Union announced a new volley of sanctions earlier this week targeting four senior Russian officials over the affair, prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to slam what he called an attempt to “shackle” his country.

– ‘Political differences’ –
Chancellor Angela Merkel has always stressed the importance of keeping a dialogue open with Putin as she walks a fine diplomatic line to keep Russia engaged.

But even the usually unflappable German leader has voiced frustration over Russia’s behaviour, including its repeated cyberattacks against the West.

Merkel told parliament last May that she had concrete proof that Russia was targeting her in the attacks.

Among the most high-profile attacks that German intelligence has accused Russian hackers of is a cyberassault on the German parliament in 2015.

Local media have named the suspect in that attack Dmitry Badin, who is also wanted by the FBI for other similar attempts.

Beyond the virtual front, a high-stakes trial is ongoing in Germany over the assassination of a former Chechen commander in a central Berlin park, allegedly on Moscow’s orders.

The brazen murder in the heart of the German capital appeared to be a tipping point for Merkel, who said last May that the killing “disrupts a cooperation of trust” between Berlin and Moscow.

The series of skirmishes with Russia has also left Merkel in a difficult position over the thorny question of a multi-billion-euro pipeline, Nord Stream 2, that is set to double Russian natural gas shipments to Germany.

Germany has long irked allies with its stubborn defence of the project.

Despite the tough opposition, including from key ally the United States, Merkel has insisted on the project.

Most recently, with the pandemic still plaguing the world, Merkel has signalled openness to the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Russia.

“Beyond all the political differences that are currently large, we can nevertheless work together in a pandemic, in a humanitarian area,” Merkel has said.

German Police Probe Letter-Bomb Attacks On Food Firms

 

Investigators in Germany said on Friday they were probing a possible link between three recent letter-bomb attacks on German food retail companies in recent days.

“We assume there is a connection,” said state prosecutors in Heidelberg in a statement after a string of mysterious attacks on a supermarket chain, a drinks company and a baby food producer earlier this week.

Further attacks were “not likely” but “could not be ruled out entirely”, they added.

Prosecutors announced Thursday the launch of a 100-person special commission to investigate the attacks.

They also confirmed that an explosive had been identified and disarmed at a parcel distribution centre at Munich airport on Wednesday night.

The parcel, which was addressed to the Bavaria-based baby food company Hipp, was the third such attack in a matter of days.

On Wednesday, three people were taken to the hospital when a letter bomb exploded at the German headquarters of discount supermarket Lidl.

Around 100 people were evacuated from the administrative building at the company’s head offices in Neckarsulm, western Germany.

A similar explosion was also reported in nearby Eppelheim at the Wild drinks company, whose products include Capri-Sun brand.

According to national news agency DPA, Germany’s food federation had also warned its members to remain vigilant when receiving post.

BioNTech Starts Vaccine Production At New German Site

In this file photo taken on November 23, 2020 is pictured a bottle reading “Vaccine Covid-19” next to US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech logos on November 23, 2020. JOEL SAGET / AFP

 

German Covid-19 vaccine maker BioNTech said Wednesday it has started production at its new facility in Marburg, expected to significantly boost the EU’s vaccine supply.

“We have started the first step of vaccine production in our production facility in Marburg,” the company said in a statement.

The factory, whose launch was fast-tracked by German authorities, will produce mRNA, the active ingredient in BioNTech’s vaccine developed with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

It will then be purified and concentrated before being transported to a “production partner” to be finished.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will carry out quality checks in February or March.

“The first vaccines produced at the Marburg site are expected to be delivered at the beginning of April,” BioNTech said.

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The main European factory for producing the vaccine is Pfizer’s plant in Puurs, Belgium.

Once fully operational, the new Marburg site in Hesse state will be one of the largest mRNA production facilities in Europe, with an annual production capacity of up to 750 million vaccine doses.

BioNTech plans to produce up to 250 million doses there in the first half of 2021.

“We continue to work with Pfizer on a series of measures to meet global demand,” said the company, confirming its goal of delivering two billion doses in 2021.

BioNTech bought the Marburg plant from Swiss pharma giant Novartis last year to ramp up vaccine production, and retained the 300 employees already working there.

BioNTech had announced in mid-January that it would have to delay shipments of the jabs to the EU due to necessary modifications at the Puurs factory, sparking ire across the bloc.

But the company said in early February it would meet its contractual commitments for the first quarter and pledged to send up to 75 million extra doses to the bloc in the spring.

The EU has ordered a total of 600 million doses of BioNTech and Pfizer’s so-called Comirnaty vaccine.

German Panel Advises Against AstraZeneca Jab For Over-65s

A nurse draws Covishield, AstraZeneca's Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine made by India's Serum Institute, at the Baruipur sub-divisional hospital on the outskirts of Kolkata on January 18, 2021. Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP
A nurse draws Covishield, AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine made by India’s Serum Institute, at the Baruipur sub-divisional hospital on the outskirts of Kolkata on January 18, 2021.
Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP

 

Germany’s vaccine commission said Thursday it could not recommend the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for older people, the latest twist in a row over the jab that has put Britain and the EU on a collision course.

The panel of scientific experts, called STIKO, said the vaccine should only be given to people aged 18 to 65 years old as “there is currently insufficient data to assess the efficacy of the vaccine for persons aged 65 years and older”.

AstraZeneca and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson immediately defended the jabs, which have already been widely used in Britain on older people.

A spokesperson for the British-Swedish company said the latest clinical trial data for its vaccine, developed with Oxford University, “support efficacy in the over 65 years age group”.

Johnson told reporters the UK’s own regulator had established “that they think the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is very good and efficacious, gives a high degree of protection”.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has not been granted approval yet for general use in the European Union.

But the bloc’s medicines regulator EMA is poised to authorise it on Friday.

The latest doubt over the vaccine came as AstraZeneca was already locked in a increasingly bitter spat with the EU over delivery problems.

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Citing issues with its European factories, the company has informed the EU that it could only supply a quarter of the doses it had promised for the first quarter of 2021.

The huge delivery delay adds a further stumbling block to the EU’s already sluggish rollout of the vaccine compared to Britain or the United States.

With tempers flaring, Chancellor Angela Merkel called a high-level meeting for February 1 with her cabinet, Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers and leaders of Germany’s 16 states.

– ‘Best effort’ –

Countries around the world are scrambling to get hold of the life-saving jabs to inoculate their populations against the virus that has claimed more than 2.1 million lives and infected more than 100 million people.

The emergence of more contagious variants first seen in Britain, South Africa and Brazil is putting further pressure on governments to speed up their immunisation programmes.

The EU-AstraZeneca dispute escalated Tuesday when the company’s chief executive Pascal Soriot said in an interview that it was prioritising supplies to Britain, which signed its contract three months before Brussels.

He argued that his company was only required to make a “best effort” to supply the bloc.

The European Commission erupted in fury, demanding on Wednesday that AstraZeneca make up for the delays by supplying doses from its UK factories.

But Britain insists it must receive all of the vaccines it ordered — and there are simply not enough to go round.

The EU said it would now require companies to declare any export of vaccines made in the bloc, a sign of growing distrust in AstraZeneca.

“The EU needs to take robust action to secure its supply of vaccines and demonstrate concretely that the protection of its citizens remains our absolute priority,” said European Council President Charles Michel.

– ‘Limited information’ –

Germany’s STIKO did not detail the data from clinical trials on the vaccine on older people.

However, prominent German media outlets Handelsblatt economic newspaper and Bild had reported that the efficacy on over-65s was below 10 percent — claims rejected by Germany’s health ministry and AstraZeneca.

A ministry spokesman said Wednesday: “A false claim does not become true just because it is repeated.”

He said however that AstraZeneca trials involved fewer older people than other manufacturers.

Around eight percent of the volunteers in AstraZeneca’s studies were around 56 and 69 years old and three to four percent were above 70, according to the ministry.

But “that the efficacy is only eight percent is incomprehensible and in our view, wrong,” the spokesman added.

In comparison, 41 percent of participants in BioNTech-Pfizer’s vaccine trials have been aged 56-85.

Britain’s MHRA regulator said in its consideration of the vaccine that “there is limited information available on efficacy in participants aged 65 or over, although there is nothing to suggest lack of protection”.

Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at government agency Public Health England, also backed the AstraZeneca vaccine for older recipients.

“There were too few cases in older people in the AstraZeneca trials to observe precise levels of protection in this group, but data on immune responses were very reassuring.

“The risk of severe disease and death increase exponentially with age — the priority is to vaccinate as many vulnerable people as possible with either vaccine, to protect more people and save more lives.”

 

German Consumer Prices Rise For First Time Since June

A picture taken on March 19, 2020 shows a view of closed restaurants, bars and locations for adult entertainment on the “Grosse Freiheit” street in the red light district of the northern German city of Hamburg on March 19, 2020.
MORRIS MAC MATZEN / AFP

 

German consumer prices climbed in January for the first time in seven months, provisional official data showed Thursday, due to the end of a temporary VAT cut to stimulate spending in the pandemic.

Inflation moved into positive territory at the start of 2021, at 1.0 percent year-on-year, according to preliminary data from federal statistics agency Destatis. It was the highest level since March.

The figure surprised analysts polled by Factset, who had forecast a rate of 0.55 percent.

A sales tax reduction to boost consumer spending from July after the first wave of the virus contributed to lower prices in Europe’s top economy.

But the end of the VAT reduction on December 31 as well as a new carbon tax and an increase in the minimum wage from January acted to fuel inflation, Destatis said.

In mid-December, Germany tightened restrictions to curb the coronavirus spread, closing non-essential shops during the key Christmas shopping season.

After coping relatively well in the spring, Germany has been hit hard by the second wave, with the current shutdowns to remain in place until at least mid-February.

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Energy prices in Germany fell 2.3 percent in January year-on-year, while those for services climbed 1.5 percent. Food prices rose 2.2 percent meanwhile, Destatis said.

According to the European Central Bank’s preferred yardstick, known as the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP), German inflation rose 1.6 percent year-on-year — below the ECB’s inflation target of just under two percent.

LBBW analyst Jens-Oliver Niklasch said that figure could clear the ECB’s benchmark “by the middle of the year”.

“Looking ahead, today’s inflation number is just the beginning of a period of significantly higher headline inflation in Germany,” economist Carsten Brzeski at ING said.

Low inflation in Germany and other eurozone nations, combined with uncertainty about the economic recovery, led the ECB in December to bolster its emergency pandemic bond-buying programme to 1.85 trillion euros ($2.24 trillion).

Refugees Cannot Be Returned To Greece, German Court Rules

A file photo of a court gavel.

 

A German court said Tuesday that two refugees granted asylum in Greece could not be sent back there because of the “serious risk of inhumane and degrading treatment” they could face.

The two men from Syria and Eritrea would face “a serious risk that they would not be able to meet their most basic needs if they return”, to Greece, said the court in the western city of Muenster.

Germany had previously rejected the two men’s asylum applications because they had already been granted international protection in Greece and threatened them with deportation.

But the court ruled they would face “extreme material hardship” if they were returned, citing difficulties finding accommodation and access to the labour market.

“The applicants’ applications for asylum cannot be rejected as inadmissible because they face a serious risk of inhumane and degrading treatment if they return to Greece,” the court said.

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Since becoming one of the main gateways into Europe for migrants and asylum-seekers in 2015, Greece has built dozens of detention centres on its islands.

But long waits in the camps and overcrowding are common.

Over 7,000 people have been living in the 32-hectare (79-acre) Kara Tepe tent camp on the island of Lesbos since September, when the permanent facility of Moria burned down.

Human rights campaigners say they are living in squalid conditions with “fewer rights than animals”.

People are supposed to apply for asylum in the first EU country they arrive in before being relocated if they are successful.

But the system has been widely derided as some countries barely accept any refugees and others like Greece and Italy bear the brunt.

Athens last year moved thousands of refugees from Lesbos and other islands to the mainland.

But many have been unable to find accommodation or jobs after leaving the camps, and the government has scaled back housing and cash benefits.

COVID-19: Atmosphere Tense For UK Passengers Held At German Airports

Passengers line up at a Covid-19 test centre at Frankfurt International Airport in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on December 19, 2020, amid the ongoing novel coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic. – According to press reports, thousands of passengers are expected to travel through the airport in Frankfurt during pre-Christmas days. (Photo by Armando BABANI / AFP)

 

“Please help us leave!” says a woman in a video shared online, one of dozens of passengers from Britain stranded in German airports on Sunday night.

Countries around the world — including Germany, France and Italy — have begun banning flights and travellers from the UK after a new strain of coronavirus was detected there.

British travellers still arriving in Germany on Sunday were prevented from leaving the airport, with health officials and nurses — some dressed in hazmat suits — administering immediate Covid-19 tests.

These measures hit 63 people arriving in Hanover from Britain, who were kept overnight in the airport and will not be permitted to leave until they receive a negative test result — expected Monday morning.

In the meantime, the terminal’s officials set up campbeds to help passengers spend the night.

Among the detained travellers, the atmosphere was tense.

“We are at Hanover airport and we are held against our will, we were tested and were prohibited from leaving the premises while awaiting the results,” said Manuela Thomys, in a video shared online by German daily Bild.

Groups of people including a nine-month-old baby can be seen in the clip. “Please help us leave!” Thomys says.

Local authorities have apologised for the inconvenience caused ahead of Christmas.

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“Our aim is to prevent the new variant of the virus from entering the region,” Hanover health official Andreas Kranz explained to German news wire DPA.

Germany reported a record in daily new infections on Thursday, surpassing the 30,000 mark for the first time, and has recorded a total of 24,125 deaths.

Scientists first discovered the new strain of the virus — which they believe is 70 percent more transmissible — in a patient in September.

But alarm bells were set ringing across Europe last week as the strain appeared to be raging in parts of Britain.

Europe last week became the first region in the world to pass 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic began a year ago.

A spokeswoman for the World Health Organization told AFP that “across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches.”

AFP