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Iconic airport may become nation's biggest asylum home

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Refugees staying in a shelter within a hangar of Tempelhof Airport: Photo: DPA.
09:56 CET+01:00
A heated debate ensued on Thursday evening about plans to transform Berlin's defunct Tempelhof airport grounds into a refugee facility for 7,000 people - which would make it the largest in the country.

The Berlin town hall meeting on Thursday evening to discuss plans for the refugee facility was met with skepticism and a barrage of questions from citizens as city officials pushed the plan to house 7,000 refugees.

The former Tempelhof Airport, built up in grandiose style by the Nazis, is famous for being the site of the Berlin Airlift between 1948 and 1949, when West Berlin had been cut off from the rest of Germany by Soviet troops.

It has been out of service since 2008 and the grounds around the airport - Tempelhofer Feld - have become a beloved recreational park and events site.

Plans were announced in September to start moving refugees into emergency shelters at the airport.

They called for a heated inflatable dome to be erected and portable toilets used during the Lollapalooza Berlin music festival to be left in place.

The city wants to further expand accommodation on the airport grounds, but that runs contrary to a referendum passed in 2014 to protect Tempelhofer Feld from the city's plans for a large-scale property development.

Concerns about overturning the popular vote were front and centre at Thursday night's town hall meeting, where 1,000 Berliners attended, according to Berliner Morgenpost

"Interest is huge - all seats are full - maybe 1,400 in attendance."

The city has argued that the facilities would be temporary for up to three years.

But those who rallied the public behind the 2014 referendum argued that allowing development now could pave the way for larger construction projects later.

Others expressed opposition to officials overturning an initiative that was put forth by the people, according to Der Tagesspiegel.

The size and conditions of the planned accommodations was also called into question, with some saying that so many people in such a tight space would be like a "ghetto", Berliner Morgenpost reported. 

A banner reading "integration instead of ghettos" at the Thursday town hall.

Currently 2,500 people reside in emergency shelters inside the airport's former hangars, with another 480 places available for use in extreme situations.

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Shuttle bus services have to transport refugees living there to nearby public pool facilities to take a shower as on-site water supplies are insufficient.

SEE ALSO: Iconic Berlin airport becoming refugee home

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