Cologne transitions displaced people to long-term homes | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 03.06.2017
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Cologne transitions displaced people to long-term homes

The city of Cologne is finally closing the last of its emergency shelters for displaced people. DW's Daniel Heinrich and Shamshir Haider report.

Because it can be difficult for journalists to gain access to Cologne's shelters for displaced people, Reber Marif (pictured) meets DW's reporters off-site. The 31-year-old, who says he fled his hometown of Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq in 2003, stands on the sidewalk in the Bilderstöckchen neighborhood wearing flip-flops, swimming trunks and a T-shirt.

Marif looks tired. "I didn't really sleep last night," he says. "The problem isn't the security people: they do a good job, the administrative people do, too. The problem is that there are too many crazies here. There are people from Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq - all men, and all in the gym. There are problems all the time."

"Precarious living conditions" is the administrative euphemism for the situations that confront displaced people in Germany's emergency shelters. The lack of privacy is a common complaint. As displaced people arrived in increasingly larger numbers, 27 gyms were being used as emergency shelters in Cologne. The last six of them are scheduled to be cleared out by the end of next week.

'Normal homes soon'

The closure of emergency shelters and the relocation of their residents to more residential facilities is in full swing across Germany. Whereas roughly 70,000 people warehoused in emergency shelters in 2016, that number has dropped to about 15,000 in 2017.

Neighbors in Bilderstöckchen are happy for the residents, as well. Akin Coruh, Frederik Schweisser and Tim Gladbach stand at the entrance to the Dreikönigsgymnasium (Three Kings High School) schoolyard, about 50 meters (160 feet) from their old gym. The 11th-graders say they feel sorry for the men. "I can't even imagine what it would be like to have to live for years with a bunch of other men in a gym," Gladbach says. "I'm just happy for them now. First, because they managed to make it to Germany, and second, because they will have normal homes soon."  

Just outside his shelter, Marif is enthusiastically telling us how happy he is about the prospect of moving, about having his own room and being able to cook in his own kitchen, when a security guard appears. He has very short hair, a T-shirt and shorts. "Can I ask what you are doing here?" he asks, cutting off Marif.

The guard won't tell us his name, nor what he is doing. Without another word or gesture, he simply disappears back into the office container at the edge of the fenced-in property. Neither the tone, nor the interruption seems out of the ordinary to Marif.

"You know, I just don't want any more trouble," Marif says. "That's why I came to Germany. There are enough problems at home, I just want my peace and quiet here."

Just minutes later we hear a racket. Men are yelling, security guards are running. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell what just transpired, because outsiders are prohibited from entering the site. One can only hope that will change soon.

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