1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

'We could have been spared a lot of stress'

Interview: Ben KnightSeptember 10, 2015

The recent refugee influx into Germany has been declared a crisis. But as Stephan Dünnwald of the Bavarian Refugees' Council tells DW, authorities suddenly found that they could cope - by being more flexible.

Deutschland Flüchtlinge in München
Image: Reuters/M. Rehle

DW: People are still entering Germany every day, but with the end of summer approaching many of the spontaneous public volunteers in Munich and elsewhere will soon have to return to work. Will the authorities still be able to cope?

Stephan Dünnwald: I don't think the volunteers can really do much when the refugees arrive, because the authorities don't really allow them into the process. That is, the people are received by the police, then they're quickly registered, then it's decided where they will go. The volunteers can just hand out water, shake the refugees' hands and maybe look after the children. The work of the volunteers is a very important positive signal, but it's not really essential.

This new influx of refugees is constantly being called a crisis. Is it really a crisis?

All the governments - the Bavarian [state government] and the [federal government] - have been talking about a crisis for years, just because the number of refugees is rising. If 10, 15, 20,000 refugees arrive in Munich in a few days, it does have the scale of a critical mass, but we've also seen that the authorities can change their bureaucratic procedures.

Stephan Dünnwald vom Bayrischen Flüchtlingsrat
Stephan Dünnwald of the Bavarian Refugees' CouncilImage: Bayrischer Flüchtlingsrat

Until last week it wasn't possible for people who arrived in Munich to simply be transported to North Rhine-Westphalia to be registered. Anyone who arrived in Munich had to be taken to some shabby shelter, had to wait to be registered, and then they were eventually taken to North Rhine-Westphalia, Thuringia, Lower Saxony or wherever. That put a lot of pressure on Munich, because Syrians who arrived were immediately recognized and so received social security and had a right to social housing.

Suddenly it was possible to relax all these rules and say "okay, 400 refugees are going to Dortmund" and then they put a train together. We saw that the authorities do have the capacity to work with slightly more flexibility. So I'm a little cautious with the word crisis - sometimes a crisis is when a public official has to move.

On the one hand, I welcome the fact that the authorities moved a little. On the other hand, a movement like this from the government could have happened last year, and then we would have been spared a lot of this stress.

The government has now come up with a new plan to deal with refugees, increasing the budget to 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) - half of which is to go to local authorities and the other half to the federal government. Is this a sustainable strategy?

I'm a bit skeptical. I think they've slowly started to think about it: okay, we have an asylum recognition rate of 50 percent - that is, 50 percent of refugees will definitely stay. Of the rest, maybe 50 percent will also stay. So if 800,000 people really come this year, we're looking at a population increase of 600,000 people - that's 600,000 people who will need German courses, job offers, training places etc. I think that's a consequence that is very slowly dawning on the governments and authorities. Even if it's fewer - say 400,000 - 6 billion euros isn't really very much, when you think we're going to need more room, more personnel, more equipment. There are going to be a lot of expenses - we're going to need housing programs, so that people can find apartments in places where they find jobs. I think all that has been calculated very tightly with 6 billion euros.

Deutschland Flüchtlinge in München
Munich has had to install extra refugee sheltersImage: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Warmuth

Everything we spend on refugees now - and not in two years - is a good investment. Any refugee who can start a German course now or training for a job will be able to earn money in three years and pay social security contributions and taxes. But people who only get that German course in two years' time will be sitting around for two years, slowly losing their skills.

Basically, we need to think about what we need to do now for refugees, what do we need to do integrate them, and then we'll look to see what we should pay. But I don't think the government has got that far yet. I think the authorities are still thinking about accommodation, providing food, and they're constantly talking about getting new police personnel. A lot is still going into increasing security and this politics of control. I don't know if that really serves integration.

Stephan Dünnwald provides individual counselling at theBavarian Refugees' Council