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World News \ Europe

33 Refugees Drown While Germany's Asylum Seekers Face Attacks

The remains of the boat that was carrying migrants seen off the shore near the Aegean town of Ayvacik, Turkey. - AP

The remains of the boat that was carrying migrants seen off the shore near the Aegean town of Ayvacik, Turkey. - AP

30/01/2016 18:01

(Vatican Radio) Turkey's state-run media say at least 33 people, including five children, have drowned in the Aegean Sea after their Greece-bound boat capsized off the Turkish coast, while far away in Germany refugees struggled in the aftermath of far-right attacks against them. Coast guards reportedly rescued 75 others from the sea Saturday near the resort of Ayvacik en route to the Greek island of Lesbos.

Listen to the report by correspondent Stefan Bos:

They were the latest victims this month when officials say more than 200 people already drowned trying to cross by sea from Turkey to Greece. From there tens of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty have already tried to reach Western nations such as Germany this year through the notorious Balkans route despite a harsh winter.

But a live hand grenade thrown at a migrant hostel in south-west Germany has underscored growing resentment towards refugees in the country.

Officials said the grenade was found overnight near buildings housing 170 refugees in the German town of Villingen-Schwenningen. Its pin had been pulled out but the explosives failed to detonate. Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas called it a new level of "hate and violence" in the country. “The degree of violence against refugee homes is frightening, if now hand grenades are being thrown into buildings in the middle of Germany.”

The minister added: “This has to be investigated, the perpetrators must be severely punished. We do not want to see dead people in refugee homes as a result of such acts.”

MORE ATTACKS

He also said the incident was the latest in a series of attacks. The federal criminal authority announced there  were more than a thousand acts against refugees and their homes last year alone. That is five times more than in 2014.

Tensions have risen after assaults on women in Cologne at New Year were linked to foreigners.

Officials said those involved represented not all refugees, but those comments have done little to end the outrage. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday tried to calm down vocal critics even within her own party of her open-door policy for refugees, saying asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq would go home once the conflicts there had ended.

Last year a record 1.1 million people sought asylum in Germany - many from war-torn Syria, but local authorities have struggled to house them.

Germany and some other Western nations seem increasingly isolated in their attempts to welcome refugees.

EASTERN EUROPE

Especially eastern European member states refuse to support a plan to redistribute as many as 160,000 migrants fleeing war and poverty across the European Union. Hungary and Slovakia even launched court cases against the EU plan.  

The EU's Schengen agreement on freedom of movement is also in jeopardy after Hungary fenced off its borders with Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and France have also reimposed border controls.

Concerns over the influx of refugees has raised the popularity of far-right and right-wing figures across Europe. They have been participating in an annual ball in Vienna at the imperial Hofburg palace, part of which houses the office of Austria’s President Heinz Fischer.

But thousands of protesters in the Austrian capital expressed concern about the event. "We are here to show the people that another and better world is possible where the all the refugees who are now coming top Europe are being welcomed," a young man said.

Yet the government of Austria, a crucial transit nation on the way to Germany, has made clear it will no longer allow all refugees arriving to pass freely through its borders.

Austria warned it would only accept 37,500 asylum claims this year, a drastic decrease from the 90,000 it received in 2015.

30/01/2016 18:01