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German interior minister promises more support for refugees

October 12, 2022

In 2022, Germany will take in more refugees than in 2015/2016, the majority of them from Ukraine. Cities and municipalities are overwhelmed with the task at hand. Now the federal government has announced extra help.

Two Ukrainian children arrive in a class for refugees in Berlin
Image: Markus Schreiber/AP Photo/picture alliance

Many municipalities in Germany are completely overwhelmed with the accommodation and care of refugees. They have been sounding the alarm to the Ministry of the Interior for some time — they simply need help.

The discussion about how to handle the provide administrative and other necessary support for refugees, hosted by German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) in Berlin, lasted two hours.

Faeser was not at the event completely of her own accord: cities and municipalities, but also representatives of Germany's 16 states, had demanded a meeting to address the situation weeks ago. They feel that the government has left them on their own to take care of the reception and support of numerous refugees from Ukraine as well as asylum seekers from other countries.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, around 1 million refugees have been taken in by Germany. In recent months, however, there has also been a renewed increase in the number of asylum seekers heading north via the Mediterranean and the so-called Balkan route.

From January to September 2022, some 135,000 new applications for asylum were submitted to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees — 35% more than in 2021.

No more room for refugees in Germany?

Sports halls and tent cities

More and more municipalities are saying that they simply have no more housing available for refugees. Sports halls are being turned into emergency accommodation.

The situation is comparable to 2015 and 2016, when hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers came to Germany as a result of the war in Syria, the vice president of the German Association of Cities, Leipzig Mayor Burkhard Jung, told DW in Berlin.

Two tent cities have already been erected in Leipzig, Jung said, while in Dresden a trade fair hall has had to be used for accommodation.

The burden, it seems, is unevenly distributed. Those who come to Germany from Ukraine can move freely for up to 90 days. Two-thirds of these refugees are housed in private accommodation or have rented their own apartments.

Others mainly go to the big cities. Of the 300 properties made available by the federal government, only 68% are occupied, according to Interior Minister Faeser. There is room available, but mainly in rural areas and smaller towns.

Money won't be discussed until November

Faeser now wants to make 56 additional federal properties available with 4,000 more places. But sheis unable to offer more money — that is beyond her official remit. 

"It was of course to be expected that the Federal Minister of the Interior did not have a checkbook with her, because the financial negotiations are conducted by the Chancellor with the state premiers," said the chairman of the Conference of Interior Ministers, the Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann (CSU), somewhat jokingly.

An exposition hall in Germany reworked as temporary accommodation for 400 refugees
In urgent situations, exposition halls like this one may be fitted out for temporary emergency accommodationsImage: Axel Heimken/dpa/picture alliance

He quickly became serious again: "But I want to say again clearly that this is now scheduled for November and it is high time."

In the spring, the federal government allocated €2 billion ($1.94 billion) for the accommodation of refugees from Ukraine. For asylum seekers, the government's promise to cover costs expired at the end of 2021 — a new agreement is pending.

In Berlin, Herrmann described a financially "lawless situation" and made it clear what he expects going forward: "In view of enormous inflation, the massive price increases that we have, it is of course obvious that the subsidies going to the municipalities in a new scheme must be at least slightly higher than those in 2021."

Tighter border controls

While the intake of more refugees from Ukraine is not up for debate, the German government is determined to limit "unauthorized entries" of asylum seekers from safe third countries.

The pressure is increasing, not just in Germany, but overall at the EU's external borders, Herrmann said. "That worries me," said Faeser, who wants to ensure a "clear limit." 

Border controls with Austria are to be extended for another six months beyond November. At the border with the Czech Republic, the federal police are also carrying out significantly more checks as part of their dragnet operations.

Faeser said she had also held "very serious talks" with her colleagues in the Czech Republic and in Austria, which had led to increased border controls there with Slovakia.

Austrian police check a line of cars at the border with Slovakia
Austrian authorities are again policing the country's border with SlovakiaImage: Theresa Wey/AP/picture alliance

Serbia's visa system 'unacceptable'

Faeser also called for the situation in Serbia and an increased deployment of Frontex to be discussed at the European level. 

Serbia allows visa-free entry for many nationalities, including Syrians, Iraqis and Turks, but also Indians and Pakistanis.

Authorities have observed an increase in people flying to Serbia and traveling on from there by land via Croatia, Slovenia and Austria, but also via Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to Germany.

Faeser said the German government had a "clear expectation" that Serbia would move to align its visa rules with those of the EU. "Serbia's visa practice is unacceptable. This also contributes to migration along the Balkan route."

European states have a "joint responsibility to stop illegal entries," she said.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (middle) with Bavarian State Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann (right) and Leipzig Mayor Burkhard Jung (left)
Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (m.) with Bavarian State Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann (r.) and Leipzig Mayor Burkhard JungImage: Jürgen Heinrich/IMAGO

Revive the Dublin Regulation?

The German government also wants to negotiate at the European level whether and how refugees who have come to Germany from other EU countries can be returned to these countries. "I recently called on the European Commission to discuss the Balkan route," Faeser said.

The Interior Minister refers to the Dublin Regulation, according to which, in principle, the first EU member state an asylum seeker enters is obliged to consider that individual's application for asylum.

It is an agreement that has been awaiting reform since the increased number of refugees that arrived in 2015 and 2016.

Inhumane treatment of asylum seekers

In practice, neither Greece — where most refugees arrive from Turkey and across the Mediterranean — nor other countries on the Balkan route have any interest in taking people back.

Migration expert Gerald Knaus speaks of an "asylum desert" that stretches from Greece to Austria: "These countries compete to see who can treat potential asylum seekers worse. The result is that almost no one wants to stay in a country in that region."

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