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Let private volunteers host asylum seekers, German MP urges

Many of the refugees that arrive daily in Germany have to make do with makeshift housing solutions. Among them are crowded temporary shelters, hotels and unused gyms. One parliamentarian has a different idea.

A steady stream of refugees arrives in Germany every day, mainly from Syria, Iraq and the Balkans. Communities find it increasingly difficult to cope as they run into problems providing adequate housing. German lawmaker Martin Patzelt suggests citizens who wish to do so should be allowed to take refugees into their homes.

DW: Would your initiative really alleviate the tense housing situation - or are you actually advocating a more welcoming approach toward asylum-seekers?

Martin Patzelt: It's both. We could at least somewhat relax highly problematic housing situations, for instance [the use of] tents in the winter season. But it would also be a clear, perhaps even contagious voluntary commitment by people saying: "we take this emergency seriously." Apart from decent lodging, people also need to be approached on an emotional level. This would signal solidarity, it would be a clear message from Germany that we don't just fall back on the taxpayers' money to regulate refugee housing, but that there are people in this country who can and wish to do more.

How did your Bundestag colleagues react to the proposal?

Their reaction was very cautious. The discussion I started in the parliamentary human rights group was cut short with the members saying that the individual states are responsible for housing asylum-seekers, and Berlin shouldn't interfere.

How did the individual states react?

Martin Patzelt

German MP Martin Patzelt would like colleagues to reassess Germany's approach to housing refugees

First, I turned to Winfried Kretschmann, the premier of the State of Baden-Württemberg - I really hope for his support. With other interested parties, I would like to write a letter to the state interior ministers with a request to add to their administrative regulations on refugee housing an extra option for private households to take in asylum-seekers.

Two German states already allow for this alternative to refugee shelters.

In Berlin and Schleswig Holstein, refugees can be housed privately - but the taxpayer foots the bill for rent. The option isn't put into practice that much because there aren't enough offers (of housing), or because rent would be too high.

My proposal is that it should be possible for a host to provide for lodging free of cost, leaving only the cost of living and health care costs on the taxpayers' bill. About 100 people have come forward nationwide, saying they would offer accommodation along those lines.

That's not very many people.

No, it isn't, but just think of it as a fermentation process. Sometimes, you need trace elements for an organism to function.

Why are politicians so reluctant? Your proposal is, after all, based on a voluntary commitment.

I've always said this is only a voluntary commitment: when it comes to sharing a home, everyone involved must agree. We're also talking about war refugees, which means people whose refugee status is resolved, and we're talking about women and children in particular, who often find themselves in a difficult situation in mass shelters surrounded by men.

But if you forge ahead with something like this, you have to set an example yourself. That's where I see a constraint: just like many other citizens, most politicians can't imagine sharing their home like that for a limited time. It's difficult to say anything against the proposal, but it could be regarded as naïve. So people shrug it off without saying a word.

So where are you headed now with your initiative?

I'm looking for allies within my own parliamentary group, but also beyond; I'm sounding out who else might be willing to write to the interior ministers. If that fails, I'll turn to the interior ministers on my own, and attach a list of people who are interested in participating - evidence that such people actually exist. I'm looking forward to the answers, since my idea would take a burden off public authorities, it's exemplary as a humane act and all in all, it can only serve to enhance the reputation of this country. I'd like to see it become our common concern here in Germany.

Martin Patzelt, a former mayor of Frankfurt/Oder, has been a member of the Bundestag since 2013. The Christian Democratic politician is also a member of the parliamentary committee on family, youth, women's and senior citizen's issues as well as the committee for human rights and humanitarian aid.

The interview was conducted by Dagmar Breitenbach.

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