Should we build a land for refugees

Berlin is building new refugee homes

A total of 38 new accommodations made of prefabricated concrete parts and with a guaranteed service life of 80 years are to be built in the coming years. The first eight buildings for a total of 2000 people should be ready next summer.

Elke Breitenbach, Berlin's Senator for Integration, Labor and Social Affairs, gives the reasons for the new building: "There are a lot of examples where we have to say that we are gradually giving up existing refugee accommodation and that is why we need new refugee accommodation." Above all, the emergency shelters from the time of the refugee crisis of 2015/16 have to be replaced. Most of them consist of containers, were set up on the green field in the area around Berlin and were intended for a maximum of three years.

Fewer refugees, more bottlenecks

The plans are based on the expected new arrivals of refugees. As everywhere in Germany, the numbers in Berlin have continued to decline in recent years. According to official statistics, 6316 asylum seekers were registered in 2019, 7260 in the previous year and 1575 in the first four months of this year - no comparison to 2015, when around 55,000 refugees arrived in Berlin and the district administrations were instructed to provide gyms for their accommodation . Today the situation is under control. Due to the distribution system within Germany, Berlin has to accept around five percent of the new arrivals every year.

Elke Breitenbach is Berlin's Senator for Integration, Labor and Social Affairs

The new buildings will give at least some of the families a certain amount of privacy because there are also residential units with their own bathrooms. Nora Brezger, the spokeswoman for the Berlin Refugee Council, says that the refugees, who need to be protected from sexual violence and diseases, lacked privacy. "Actually, we are against refugee accommodation," she told DW. "We want real apartments for everyone. But if it is not possible without accommodation, these should at least be divided into apartments so that every family has their own bathroom. During the corona pandemic this is more important than ever."

As in old people's homes and shelters for the homeless, it is difficult to adhere to strict hygiene measures in refugee homes. In some, attempts have been made to prevent a corona outbreak by setting up quarantine areas and by regulating bathroom and kitchen use per family.

Nora Brezger, spokeswoman for the Berlin Refugee Council, wants affordable apartments for everyone

Last week, the authorities in the Buch district reported that 25 of a total of 407 residents had tested positive in a corona test in a refugee shelter. Ten of the infected and 55 other people with whom they had contact had to be moved to another accommodation for quarantine. A Senate statement said the property workers and security guards should be tested later this week. But: "Further or permanent rectification by moving out other residents of the accommodation is not possible due to the lack of places in the social room, but also a lack of connected places in the district in suitable accommodation."

Asylum yes, but no place to stay

Berlin faces another problem: more than half of the residents in the accommodations have received asylum. This means that you can live and work in Germany for up to three years. But then they should no longer live in refugee shelters.

But the housing market in the capital is chronically tight, and refugees are competing with many other people for housing. "They're students, they're single mothers, they're Germans who live on welfare," says Nola Brezker from the Refugee Council. "The refugees are at the bottom of the list because of a lack of language skills, because of the prejudices of landlords, because many have more than two children and landlords do not want that many children. Even if they find an apartment, others are preferred to them." Above all, of course, refugees compete with people who are permanently resident in Germany.

It was a long time ago: This is what it looked like in the temporary mass accommodation in Tempelhof in 2015

If the refugees do not live in the accommodations, "they would be on the street," Senator Elke Breitenbach sums up the situation. For Brezger, the question of where to put the refugees points to a bigger problem. "We always ask: If you can build refugee accommodation, why can you build unaffordable apartments for everyone, for refugees, for Germans, for other Europeans, for everyone?"

The humanitarian situation is much worse elsewhere in Europe, however, and the Berlin Senate coalition made up of the SPD, the Greens and the Left Party has decided to take in more refugees from the chronically overcrowded camps on Lesbos and other Greek islands. "We believe that this is part of a humane refugee policy," says Senator Elke Breitenbach. "We want Europe and of course Germany to take responsibility."

According to the Senator, some of the temporary container accommodations are to be reopened while the new accommodations are being built. But it is not certain how many, and even whether refugees from the Greek islands will be brought to Germany at all. The Union-led federal government has so far opposed it, and whether the federal states could decide this unilaterally is a delicate legal question.