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Refugee accommodation in Berlin: No going back to gymnasiums

In Berlin, as elsewhere, beds in initial reception centers are becoming scarce. But no one wants to talk about a “crisis” like 2015.

View along sleeping quarters in the refugee accommodation at the former Tegel Airport.

It’s getting tight: Accommodation for refugees in the former Tegel Berlin Airport Photo: Hannes P Albert/dpa

BERLIN taz | In Berlin, the State Office for Refugee Affairs is sounding the alarm that accommodation capacities have been exhausted. The Senate Department for Integration said on Tuesday: All refugee accommodations are full except for the last space. By mid-September, as many refugees had come to Berlin as were originally forecast by the end of the year. That is also 40 percent more than in the same period in 2022.

In August the number of immigrants increased again. Syrians and Afghans make up the largest groups among the 1,900 asylum seekers who came to Germany in August alone. In the past few weeks, a very large number of Kurds have also come from Turkey. The number of new Ukrainians who need to be accommodated is stagnating at a high level of around 1,000 people per month.

Berlin is not alone in this: North Rhine-Westphalia reported at the end of August that refugees would have to be accommodated in gyms again in the future. The Association of Cities and Municipalities has also called for more initial reception centers, also with federal support. According to data from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, 77 percent more asylum seekers arrived from January to August 2023 than in the same period last year.

In Berlin, the arrival numbers are comparable to those in 2015, when hundreds of refugees who could not be accommodated camped in front of Lageso – the state office for health and social affairs, which was then still responsible for accommodating refugees.

Gyms should not be occupied

This time, no one in the Berlin administration wants to use the word “refugee crisis”. All people should be given a bed, albeit often in precarious mass accommodation in the former Tegel and Tegel airports Tempelhof. And: gyms should not be occupied. According to the will of the red-black Senate, it should stay that way. But what do you do when there is no more space? There will already be a gap of 4,500 beds by the end of the year.

Churches could now become the new gymnasiums: Berlin wants to start filling a church with newly arrived asylum seekers these days. In addition, more people should be accommodated in the existing accommodation. According to the Senate, two large tents will be opened in the next few days former Tegel Airport equipped with beds. 3,800 people already live in cramped ten-person cabins on the airport grounds. Most come from Ukraine.

New capacities are also to be developed on the former Tempelhof airport site. So far, two hangars and a parking lot are equipped with living containers. Another parking lot will follow, and whether there will also be another hangar has not yet been decided. The Senate also wants to rent 1,500 places in hotels and hostels for refugees, explains Social Senator Cansel Kiziltepe (SPD).

Higher-quality accommodation for refugees is under construction, but it is not being completed at the same pace as demand is increasing. Last year, 10,000 places were created in rapid construction, so-called modular accommodation. This year there are 6,000. New land for this purpose is scarce in the city state of Berlin.

Georg Classen from Berlin Refugee Council criticizes the tendency towards “collection camps” in which the residents have no privacy and cannot cook their own food. He calls for the abolition of federal laws that force refugees to live in homes in a certain state even if they could stay with relatives in another state. “The planned drastic funding cuts at the federal level” for advice and integration of refugees are also absolutely counterproductive, Classen tells taz.

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