'#LeaveNoOneBehind' campaign at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Sunday, April 5 | Photo: Reuters Michele Tantussi
'#LeaveNoOneBehind' campaign at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Sunday, April 5 | Photo: Reuters Michele Tantussi

Protest organizations have found new ways to show their solidarity for migrants and refugees in times of coronavirus. Demonstrations have been largely banned because of the risk of infringing the distance required between people. Nevertheless, a call to action went ahead on Sunday.

"#LeaveNoOneBehind": What started out as an online petition has become the current call to action to people across Europe to show solidarity with migrants and refugees.

On Sunday, April 5, the organization Seebrücke (Seabridge) called upon activists in Germany to "leave a trace" by painting their footprints in front of various state institutions in Germany. The goal: to underline their call that all migrant camps in Greece be immediately evacuated.

Seebrücke is a civil society movement in Germany which says it shows solidarity with everyone who has been forced to flee their country. The organization has had to think of new ways to protest because of the current restrictions placed on mass gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Protests went ahead despite ban

Despite a ban issued by state authorities and police forces ahead of the call to action, many of the protests went ahead over the weekend, some of which had to be broken up by police.

The call to action had specified one or maximum two people at a time should meet to hold placards and protest, and all participants should observe the distance required. But in Lüneburg in the northern German state of Lower Saxony, police stated that "the risk that this would cause a group to grow" could make it "more likely for the virus to spread." This danger to the public and society "overrode the right to demonstrate," continued the statement.

According to police, some of the protesters agreed to go home. Some others didn't agree with the police and risked being charged with public order offenses.

'Irresponsible not to protest in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe'

In Frankfurt it was a similar story. A human chain, with a distance of two meters between each person was created over a bridge. Activists posted on Twitter that the police came with loudspeakers to tell them that the protest was against the law -- despite the distance between each protester.

Seebrücke itself said that although "mass gatherings are currently irresponsible," it would also be "irresponsible not to protest in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe which is becoming more and more acute."

'Act now'

The organization called on the German government and Europe to "act now." They claim that "more than 140 safe harbors say they have room," for refugees and migrants currently in the Greek camps. They say that if the German government can bring back German tourists from all over the world then they should be able to evacuate the Greek migrant camps too.

By leaving "colored footprints or empty shoes" Seebrücke claimed that they could show the institutions that the protesters are "many." They vowed to return again and again until "the islands are evacuated" and "no one is left behind."

'Ban unacceptable and unconstitutional'

The online tabloid B.Z reported that around 100 people took part in the Berlin demonstration over the course of the day. The Berlin police on Twitter thanked those demonstrators who left the scene after being asked and warned that anyone who had argued with police or refused to leave the square would be issued with a warning.

According to the left-wing newspaper TAZ a representative of Seebrücke in Hamburg, Christoph Kleine said that the ban on the type of demonstration that Seebrücke had called for was "against the constitution" and was "unacceptable." He said that their demonstrations were "no more dangerous than going shopping."

More than 300,000 signatories

In the two weeks since Seebrücke began their latest campaign to evacuate the camps, TAZ report that they have collected more than 300,000 signatures. On Twitter they posted a video of the campaign, saying that they were "stunned" that despite promises to evacuate at least 1,600 of the most vulnerable from the Greek islands, no one had actually yet left Greece. They underlined that whilst drawing a footprint on the pavement with chalk was "not a crime, leaving people without protection in Greece was."

There are currently more than 40,000 men in camps across the Greek islands. Eight EU states in March had promised to take in some of the 1,600 most vulnerable people on the islands, but so far, only Luxemburg has confirmed that it will start evacuations this week. German politicians are talking about following suit this week.

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