North Rhine-Westphalia is home to one-fifth of Germany′s refugees | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 21.09.2015

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North Rhine-Westphalia is home to one-fifth of Germany's refugees

Germany's most populous state is now home for more than 20 percent of Germany's new refugees. The key to things going smoothly: solidarity. Nothing works without help from volunteers and NRW's cities.

Refugees arrive in Germany every day: men, women and children who hope to make a better life for themselves than they had in their war-torn home countries. Right now, most of them come on trains from Austria, or from Hungary, where they made it after often torturous journeys from Syria or Iraq. While the trains' first stop in Germany is Munich, Bavaria is not the state that takes in the most refugees.

The "Königstein Key" is probably Germany's most important formula at the moment, because it determines how many refugees each of the 16 German states has to take in. It takes into account tax revenues and population numbers. The highest number of refugees - 21.24 percent of all refugees coming to Germany to be exact - is allocated to North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).

All of the Netherlands in one German state

The state in western Germany shares a border with the Netherlands and Belgium and is the most populous German region with 17.6 million inhabitants - which is more than the Netherlands with its 16.8 million people. This large population is the reason that NRW takes in more than one-fifth of Germany's refugees.

"We have this big responsibility because there are so many people in our state," a spokesman for the NRW Ministry of the Interior told DW.

And the responsibility is big indeed. Last year, a total of 43,000 refugees were allocated to North Rhine-Westphalia. This year, more than 150,000 have come to the state so far. And while some of them are sent elsewhere to fulfill the quotas of the "Königstein Key," most of them have stayed in NRW, the interior ministry's spokesman said.

Refugees sit in front of a row of stuffed animals at Dortmund central station. (Photo: PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The end of a long journey: refugees at Dortmund central station

The registration game

To ensure things go smoothly, especially during the early stages when refugees apply for asylum after arrival, the state's first central registration office began operations on Monday in the city of Münster.

Normally, people who seek asylum in Germany register as asylum seekers at the initial aid facility where they spend their first few days. But recently, the NRW Interior Ministry spokesman explained, refugees have arrived in such high numbers that they have had to live in emergency housing after their arrival.

To still enable them to register right away, the state sent out "mobile registration teams," police officers who would drive from one emergency facility to the next to register people right on the spot. Soon, however, there weren't enough personnel, so the initiative died down.

Starting Monday, busses will take people from their emergency housing to the new central office in Münster , where they can register before they're taken back to their facilities. A quick registration is important for the refugees, because it gets their asylum application started.

It's also important to the state, because the "Königstein Key" only takes into account the number of registrations. If many refugees stay in NRW without registering for a while, it'll look to the system like the state isn't fulfilling its quota and should be sent more refugees - even though NRW is actually taking in more refugees than it needs to, according to the spokesman from the interior ministry.

Cherishing the volunteers

A refugee taking a sandwich from an outstretched hand. (Photo: PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

When refugees arrived, Dortmund citizens came to the train station to help out with basics like food

Another change: the special refugee trains from Munich will no longer arrive in Düsseldorf and Dortmund. Starting Monday, the Cologne-Bonn airport will replace Dortmund's main station as a central arrival point in NRW. The reason: Dortmund is somewhat overwhelmed with expanding their initial aid facility, which is one of five in the state, and serving as a central arrival point at the same time.

One thing that's never been a problem: getting Dortmund residents to help the refugees who arrived at the train station. Mayor Ullrich Sierau said he was extremely grateful for the help of hundreds of volunteers, without whom the city wouldn't have been able to keep the balls in the air.

"The outstanding solidarity with the refugees has given Dortmund a nationwide reputation we can be proud of," Sierau said in a statement.

The same goes for NRW and Germany as a whole. Thousands of volunteers donate clothes, organize German classes and help out with the registration effort. In Bonn, another city in North Rhine-Westphalia, volunteers have made a big difference as well, by providing rooms or apartments for the former German capital's de-centralized housing program.

"It would be absolutely impossible without volunteer support," said Bonn's integration commissionerColetta Manemann.

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