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"Stress test for our society" - high number of refugees pushes cities to their limits

In Dresden, the trade fair is being prepared as an emergency accommodation for refugees, Leipzig is planning tent cities, Berlin sees itself at the limit.

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"Stress test for our society" - high number of refugees pushes cities to their limits

In Dresden, the trade fair is being prepared as an emergency accommodation for refugees, Leipzig is planning tent cities, Berlin sees itself at the limit. Before the refugee summit with Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) this Tuesday, cities and communities are sounding the alarm. "The situation is currently very serious," says the Vice President of the German Association of Cities, Burkhard Jung. Some compare the situation with the refugee years 2015 and 2016. The numbers are similar. And yet a lot is different because of the Ukraine war.

Because the vast majority of the people who fled to Germany this year come from the Ukraine. According to official information, the so-called Central Register of Foreigners recorded exactly 1,002,668 people who entered Germany from the Ukraine in connection with the Russian attack on February 24. Around a third of them are children and young people under the age of 18. More than 70 percent of adults are women. In addition, according to figures from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, by the end of September 134,908 people had applied for asylum in Germany for the first time. This is around a third more than in the same period last year.

So far this year, a good 1.1 million people have sought protection in Germany. In 2015, 441,899 initial applications for asylum were registered here, in 2016 there were 722,370. However, the figures are not necessarily easily comparable and they do not tell everything. So it is unclear how many people from Ukraine have left the Federal Republic. Migration researchers point out that at times more Ukrainians from the European Union went back to their homeland than vice versa. What is also special about the refugees from the Ukraine is that they were given residence and work permits here immediately, they did not have to go to collective accommodation and they did not have to go through asylum procedures.

"It is clear that we are dealing with a significant stress test for our society," says refugee expert Marcus Engler from the German Center for Integration and Migration Research. And he believes that they could rise further in the winter if the war in Ukraine escalates or if more homes are destroyed there.

The result: the accommodation becomes a humanitarian tour de force, as Interior Minister Faeser puts it. According to the Berlin Senator for Integration Katja Kipping (left), for example, there are currently only 200 free places in the capital. Around 6,000 new places have been created in the past few months, with the total number at 27,700 being higher than ever. "The situation is extremely difficult," says Kipping. This is now the case in many municipalities, including in the West.

One faces the humanitarian challenge, emphasizes city council vice president Jung in a statement that is available to the editorial network Germany and the German Press Agency. "However, we are looking forward to the winter with great concern." Jung is also mayor of Leipzig. Two tent cities for almost 440 people will soon be built there. "But Christmas is over," says city spokesman Matthias Hasberg. "Then we'll no longer be talking about tents, but about gymnasiums and exhibition halls."

The authorities have been racking their brains for a few weeks now that, in addition to the Ukraine refugees, more people are coming from other crisis regions via the so-called Balkan route. Saxony is considered a hotspot. People arrive here from the borders with the Czech Republic and Poland. The number of arriving migrants registered at the Dresden Federal Police Inspection rose from a good 500 in July to 1,200 in August to around 2,400 in September. In the case of unauthorized entries, people from Syria in particular, but also Iraqis and Afghans, are apprehended, including many young men aged 15 to 25. Brandenburg reports a strong increase in illegal smuggling.

From the beginning of January to the end of August 2022, Bavaria identified 1,650 cases of unauthorized entry within a 30-kilometer area on the borders with the Czech Republic and Austria and announced increased controls in the border region. According to the authorities, Austria has picked up around 68,000 irregular migrants since May, mainly from Afghanistan, India, Syria, Tunisia and Pakistan - and the trend is rising. Indicators in Serbia and Hungary also suggest that the Balkan route is currently being used more intensively than it was a year ago.

However, migration researchers put the increasing numbers in perspective. Far fewer people came via the Balkan route than in 2015 or 2016 - only about 10 to 15 percent of the numbers at that time, says Franck Düvell from the University of Osnabrück. There is also a “catch-up effect” behind this. Many people would come who were stuck in arrival countries like Greece because of the corona pandemic and are now hoping for better conditions in northern EU countries.

However, the number of irregular arrivals discovered in the EU is not particularly high. "There is no wave emerging," says Düvell. "The fact that the specter of the Balkan Route 2015 is being tried again - I actually find that irresponsible." His Berlin colleague Engler takes a similar view: "So far I haven't seen any major new migration movements from outside into the European Union."

Nevertheless, both researchers agree that the total number of people to be accommodated and cared for in Germany is exceptionally high. "I understand that this is a huge challenge," says Düvell. The municipalities are asking for help. "The federal government will not be able to avoid increasing its funds to finance the accommodation of refugees from Ukraine," says City Council Vice President Jung.

The finances should still be haggled. Interior Minister Faeser has already made a commitment: Among other things, the SPD politician wants to make more federal real estate available as accommodation.

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