BERLIN (AP) — Dozens of people from around the world lined up on a sunny morning this week outside a former Berlin psychiatric hospital to ask for asylum in Germany.
There were two elderly women from Moldova. A young Somali man sat next to them on a bench. A group of five young Pakistanis were chatting loudly, standing behind two pregnant Vietnamese women.
The new arrivals are among more than 10,000 migrants who have sought asylum in the German capital this year and arrive at a time when Berlin is running out of space to accommodate them.
“The situation is not very good at the moment,” Sascha Langenbach, spokesperson for the State Office for Refugees in Berlin, said this week. “That’s way more than we expected last year.”
The former psychiatric hospital in Berlin’s Reinickendorf district was transformed into a registration center for asylum seekers in 2019 and can accommodate up to 1,000 migrants.
But it’s complete.
Authorities installed 80 additional beds in a church on site. Beyond that, there are still 100 reception centers for asylum seekers in Berlin, but these are also saturated.
Berlin’s state government says it will open a hangar at the former Tempelhof Airport to make room for migrants, set up a large tent at the asylum registration center and open a former hardware store as well as hotels and hostels in the city to accommodate an additional 5,500 people. Beds for more migrants the city expects will be available by the end of the year.
There are also not enough places in kindergartens and schools. In addition to asylum seekers, Berlin this year also welcomed an additional 11,000 Ukrainian refugees who fled the war in Russia.
The lack of space and money for Ukrainian migrants and refugees is not unique to Berlin. It’s a problem across Germany, where local and state officials have asked the federal government for more funds, without success.
More than 220,000 people applied for asylum in Germany between January and August, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Moldova and Georgia. During 2022, 240,000 people applied for asylum in Germany.
This is a far cry from the million people who arrived in Germany in 2015-2016. But Germany has also welcomed more than a million Ukrainians since the start of the war in 2022. Unlike other arrivals, Ukrainians immediately receive residency status in Germany and the other 26 countries of the European Union. .
While Germans welcomed asylum seekers with flowers, chocolates and toys upon their arrival in 2015, and many opened their homes to host Ukrainians in 2022, the mood towards the new arrivals has changed profoundly since then.
“After two years of crisis (coronavirus), then war in Ukraine with rising prices for practically everything – heating, gas, but also food – it is sometimes quite difficult to convince people that they have to share their premises and their capabilities with those who have just arrived. “, said Langenbach.
Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, has successfully exploited Germans’ hardening attitudes toward migrants. Polls now put him second nationally with around 21 per cent, well above the 10.3 per cent he won in the last federal election in 2021.
The AfD’s rise in polls and relentless anti-migrant rhetoric from party leaders, including calls to close Germany’s borders to keep out migrants, have put pressure on national governments and Länder as well as other mainstream parties to toughen their approach towards migrants.
On Wednesday, Germany’s interior minister announced that his country would strengthen border controls along “smuggling routes” with Poland and the Czech Republic to prevent the entry of irregular migrants.
In June, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended plans to completely block migrants from entering the EU until their chances of obtaining asylum had been examined, arguing that the bloc’s existing provisions on the sharing of the burden of asylum seekers between different European countries is “completely dysfunctional”. “
Germany has taken in more migrants than most other European countries, but other countries like Turkey and Lebanon, which are home to millions of Syrian migrants, have taken in more refugees as a percentage of their populations.
Despite changing sentiment toward migrants in Germany, those who succeed and seek asylum are generally grateful to be here.
Abdullah al-Shweiti, originally from Homs, Syria, recently arrived in Berlin and was awaiting the results of his medical examination at the asylum seekers’ reception center. He said he was relieved to be “in a safe place.”
The 29-year-old said he ran away from home because his family’s home was bombed during the war and he did not want to fight in the army. He said he paid 3,000 euros ($3,180) to smugglers who helped him cross from Lebanon to Europe. He took the Balkan route and walked with other young Syrians north, via Bulgaria, through the forests. They traveled on foot, by taxi and by bus until smugglers dropped them off in the German capital.
Mirbeycan Gurhan, a Kurd from Bingol in eastern Turkey, said he had fled repression by Turkish authorities. He paid 6,000 euros ($6,360) to smugglers to arrange a flight from Ankara to Belgrade, Serbia, and then a car to Germany.
“I hope I have a better future here. I hope I can find work,” said the 24-year-old with a shy smile while his uncle, who applied for asylum in Berlin four years ago years old, stood next to him and translated. .
Michael Elias, director of the Tamaja company which runs the asylum seeker registration center in Berlin, said the arrival of migrants from around the world is only a reflection of the many crises plaguing the world, like climate change and wars, and which Germany needs. be ready to welcome even more people.
“Yes, a lot of people come here, but look at what’s happening in the world,” Elias said. “We just have to anticipate that we are not an island of lucky people here, that things will come to us too.”