• Germany's news in English

Asylum-seeker influx strains German shelters

AFP · 8 Mar 2014, 10:42

Published: 08 Mar 2014 10:42 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Arrivals, mainly from eastern Europe, jumped by almost two-thirds in 2013 to the highest level in 14 years, even though most applicants have little chance of being accepted as political refugees.

In one residential home on the outskirts of the sprawling German capital, a family of six from Bosnia-Hercegovina now share a spartan room of just 25 square metres (270 square feet).

The ethnic Roma family, who tried to leave behind a life of poverty and discrimination in Bosnia, now kill time in a room with just the bare necessities: a bed, a table and a dilapidated sofa.

Their temporary abode, a former nursing home on the edge of a forest, was meant to close in mid-April. But, given the recent surge of asylum seekers, it is now expected to stay open longer.

Across the city, in the tower blocks of Lichtenberg in the former East Berlin, people from 18 nations live in a 10-storey building that was converted into an asylum seekers' centre more than two years ago.

"We have 350 places in the centre but we currently have 360-370 people," said its director Birgit Bauer, adding that four or five people commonly share 20 square metres, with communal showers and toilets.

"Some families who already live in cramped conditions have agreed to accept more people into their studio apartments," she said.

Since late 2010, Germany has seen the number of asylum seekers rise sharply.

Last year the jump was 64 percent, to 127,023 applicants. And in January it rose by a record 76.7 percent from a year earlier, according to the Office for Migration.

The leading country of origin last year was Serbia with more than 18,000 applications, up 40 percent on 2012. About 90 percent of them were Roma.

Many have also come from Bosnia-Hercegovina, with arrivals up 104 percent in 2013, and Kosovo -- up 74.5 percent -- as well as Russia, including Chechnya.

"Many people from the former Yugoslavia found refuge in Germany during the war in the early '90s," said Bauer. "Now they are returning with their families and, in their quest for a better future, see Germany as their last hope."

Citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, another top country of origin, have since late 2009 been allowed to travel in the Schengen visa-free zone.

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic has said that many people from his country "do not come for asylum but to take the money because the benefits are high".

In Germany, while waiting for their request to be processed, families are entitled to 134 euros ($185) per month for adults and 80 euros per child.

The influx has been met by outbreaks of xenophobia, with neo-Nazis rallying last year outside a Berlin refugee centre.

Berlin is currently housing 8,360 asylum seekers in centres built to house no more than 8,100 people.

Story continues below…

Some 450 others live in emergency accommodation in hotels "for a few days or a week or two", said Franz Allert, chairman of Berlin's Office of Health and Social Issues, which is responsible for refugee issues.

"The situation is tense, even serious because this year we need to again plan on new high numbers of asylum seekers," he said.

"Some centres should have closed long ago because they are run down and not at all appropriate, but we have no choice but to leave them open."

Non-profit and rights groups such as ProAsyl have denounced the slow pace of the German bureaucracy in reacting to the sharp rise in numbers and called for more staff to process asylum applications.

"It's not just about only giving shelter to these people," said Bauer. "We also want to give them the opportunity to get a foothold in our society."

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd