Germany’s federal, state and local governments failed to reach a consensus in a meeting on refugees. According to experts, this may lead to uncertainty.
Interior Minister Nancy Fesser offered to make more federal property available for refugee housing, proposed a new working structure for cooperation and suggested holding another meeting in the spring.
However, he stopped short of offering more financial aid to federal German states, cities and municipalities, stressing that the federal government has already pledged 2.75 billion euros this year. This decision did not yield positive results. After the summit held in Berlin, the Minister of the Interior of the German state of Hesse, Peter Beuth, said that there is a risk of “deterioration of the country’s environment”.
Reinhard Zager, head of the Association of German Local Authorities, described the meeting as disappointing and criticized Chancellor Olaf Schulz’s absence. “We need help immediately,” Zagar said.
Tough times for everyone
Bellefield Mayor Pete Clausen seemed satisfied when asked how his city was dealing with refugees from the war in Ukraine. He said that the actual situation is better than the mood seen in the summit.
About 340,000 people live in this city in the western province of North Rhine-Westphalia, including 4,000 Ukrainian refugees. “A big city like Bellefield can handle that kind of situation easily,” Clausen said.
He said that more than half of these refugees are living with their relatives or acquaintances. Now no one needs to stay in temporary camps set up in schools. Clausen also said that all the children of the Ukrainian refugees had access to daycare centers and schools. “Basically the system has absorbed everyone and given them space. All the refugees who came before have found jobs.” According to Clausen, most of the refugees have settled and moved on with their lives.
There are about 11,000 cities and towns in Germany. Few of them have had as positive a track record in this regard as Bellefield. In 2022, in addition to more than one million refugees from Ukraine, about 244,000 refugees also came to Germany from Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey and Iraq.
It’s not just a lack of housing
Jens Marco Scherf, district administrator of the Green Party in Miltenberg, a region of more than 100,000 people in the southern German province of Bavaria, estimates that he has had to shelter more people this time than during the refugee crisis in 2015. . He said that all local bodies are overburdened and cannot justify adding more burden to the system.
Miltenberg’s local government told DW that the small town has had to rent houses to house refugees every week since the fall. However, there is still a long waiting list of people seeking accommodation, forcing refugees to stay in temporary accommodation for long periods of time.
In light of the situation facing the city, the sheriff has called on the federal and state governments to ‘restrict immigration’. The EU had agreed to the same in its last summit. The European Union has decided to tighten borders and deport people whose asylum applications have been rejected. However, Ukrainian citizens will not be affected by this decision as they do not need to go through the process of submitting an asylum application.
There are other concerns about other refugees arriving in Germany in recent times. Social integration is not just about finding a place to live. In Lindau, a town in the south of Germany, resources are becoming limited, not only for refugees, but for local citizens as well. According to local authorities, “when refugees are not properly housed and cared for, teachers cannot adequately fulfill their responsibilities, childcare facilities are lacking, schools or Gymnasiums are not available for sports clubs.
Situated on the shores of Lake Constance, this beautiful town has a population of around 81,000 and advertises itself with the slogan ‘closer to heaven’. The town is one of many local government areas that have been calling for more urgent help from the federal government for weeks.
Berlin government pledges billions of euros in aid
German Chancellor Olaf Schulz, while addressing the federal parliament, promised, “We will not leave you alone.” In his address to the German Bundestag, he assured that this year, like last year, the state and local governments Billions of euros will be made available to ensure the care of newly arrived refugees.
However, Chancellor Scholes appeared reluctant to make any concrete promises. Meanwhile, federal states and cities appeared anxious about sheltering more people. Hannes Shaman is Professor of Migration Policy at Hildesheim University. According to him, most of the problem in dealing with the large number of refugees is the experience of the municipalities.
“Cities that built infrastructure to deal with the migrant crisis in 2015 and didn’t completely dismantle it are in a position to deal with the current crisis,” Shaman told DW. The mayor of Hanover, Billet Oene, also confirms this. “We were able to set up reception centers in trade fairs within days after the invasion of Ukraine began,” he told DW.
He termed the current situation as ‘challenging’ but said, “For now, it can be tackled through continuous work on capacity building and strong collaboration between various agencies of the city administration.”
Major obstacles remain
In 2022, the federal government provided 4,000 additional apartments for Ukrainian refugees. However, only two-thirds of them were accommodated. The rest of the buildings were vacant for a long time and lacked electricity and water facilities. It is hoped that all the facilities will be provided there in the near future.
The Green Party, which is in government together with the SPD and the FDP in the centre, has proposed making it easier for refugees to access the private housing market. Feliz Polat, the party’s migration policy spokesperson in the federal parliament, has proposed changing a law, which prevents most migrants from taking up residence directly in private housing.
At the moment, unlike other refugees, Ukrainian refugees can come to Germany and live with their relatives or friends anywhere they want. Refugees from other countries have to stay in refugee centers for long periods of time. Polat said in an interview with German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that about 30 percent of refugees from other countries already have relatives in Germany. Miltenberg has a consensus on this proposal. However, it was also stated that there should be proof that the relative or friend concerned also has adequate accommodation.
According to Clausen, mayor of Bellefeld, treating Ukrainians and other refugees equally requires not only housing, but also many other measures. He said, “It is foolish to create a first and second class system. We must ensure our social system as well as the provision of education and integration opportunities for everyone coming to Germany.”
They believe it should end the long-term work ban on refugees and improve the lengthy process of processing asylum applications. Like other cities in Germany, Bielefeld also has a shortage of skilled workers. According to Clausen, everyone has an advantage in the rapid social integration of refugees and providing them with vocational training.
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