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'Germany can handle more refugees'

Sabine Devins · 23 Sep 2014, 16:49

Published: 23 Sep 2014 16:49 GMT+02:00

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Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has called for other European states to pick up the slack when it comes to taking on refugees from conflict zones.

De Maizière told Der Spiegel: "It is ridiculous that four, five countries take on the majority of refugees. This is not the European-wide solidarity that we so urgently need."

But a spokesman for Refugio, an organization aiding refugees in Munich, said that while other EU countries could do more, so could Germany.

"We're the biggest country in the EU. Yes, as the interior ministry says, we take on the biggest number, but if you look at it per capita, Sweden is actually on the top there. Germany is solidly in the middle of the pack," Jürgen Soyer told The Local.

In the last six months, 108,300 refugees have come to Europe. Of those, the greatest number, 36,800, have landed in Germany.

The largest group have come from Syria, fleeing the advancement of the jihadist terrorist group Islamic State (Isis).

Soyer says people come here because there is a system to give them some level of support.

He said he's heard of refugees winding up in Bulgarian jails or those in Italy who simply live on the street because there is nowhere else for them to go.

On Monday 130,000 Syrians rushed the Turkish border following Isis's victory around Kobane, a Syrian town close to the border. Soyer said Germany must now act to make sure those who flee, do so into safety.

"On Saturday, 75,000 people fled into Turkey. Germany has to take an active role in bringing those people to safety," he said.

“When they are in these camps, shelter is lacking, there is a danger of starvation, they are still close to the danger they are fleeing," he said.

130,000 Syrian refugees flooded into Turkey over the weekend. Photo: DPA


In Schwetzingen, between Heidelberg and Mannheim in Baden-Württemberg, to accommodate the approximately 1,200 refugees awaiting their status, the city has built a village of container homes.

On average, it takes a year for authorities to make a decision regarding a claimant's refugee status. Last year, 13,195 applicants nationally, or 38 percent, were denied refugee status in Germany.

Munich is facing the problem of accommodating minors who make the asylum journey without parents.

Outside the city, Bavaria-Kaserne, a former military facility built in the 1930s, continues to be used as housing because there is simply nowhere else for refugees to live while awaiting approval to stay in the country.

Soyer says that the wait is the most difficult challenge for those that Refugio works with.

"Not knowing if they can stay here is the biggest source of insecurity for these people. Some have to wait months to know if their claim has been successful," he said.

He welcomed last month's government announcement to increase benefits for asylum seekers to subsistence levels.

Under the plans, those who cannot return to their country of origin and have been living in Germany for more than 18 months will be transferred to the general social security system. The time people have to wait to receive social benefits will also be reduced from four years to 15 months.

"There is this idea that if we support refugees too much, it will bring too many here and drain the resources. This is an incorrect way of thinking. We need to support the people who are here now," Soyer concluded.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday that German asylum laws cannot be the answer to the world's problems, but "we also cannot pretend that this doesn't affect us".

Story continues below…

Shame on you

There are no EU-wide rules regarding the distribution of refugees in countries, but Bundestag vice president Claudia Roth echoed the sentiments of the interior ministry in an interview with German Radio on Monday evening.

"I have to say, I think it's really shameful that there are member countries of the European Union that have, for the most part, taken no refugees at all," she said.

"Europe's policy has been characterized by the prevention of refugees coming to us, but now we must focus on our responsibility to protect those that do."

However, Roth added that Germany has the capacity to take on more than the estimated 20,000 Syrians it has already accommodated.

"This really is a human tragedy of unprecedented proportions," the Green Party politician said.  "When we are talking about 20,000 people from Syria, it is a stark look into the reality of those fleeing the region."

SEE ALSO: Germany beefs up asylum rules for Balkans

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Sabine Devins (sabine.devins@thelocal.com)

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