'There's no room but we have nowhere else to go'
The Local · 20 Oct 2014, 11:50
Published: 20 Oct 2014 11:50 GMT+02:00
- Dozens of complaints against refugee guards (16 Oct 14)
- Refugees to live in tents at Oktoberfest site (15 Oct 14)
- 3,000 refugees arrive at Munich station (30 Sep 14)
Rana and Hassan are among the lucky ones. They managed to escape the fiercely contested city of Aleppo in Syria with their family intact.
After a month on the road they reached Munich on Wednesday night. They were picked up by the police and brought to the Bayernkaserne, a refugee camp on the fringe of an industrial estate on the northern edge of the city.
Since then they've been camping out in front of the overcrowded facility.
"No room for us," Rana told The Local in a tired voice. She clutches her four-year old in her arms. Her other three children cling to her looking dazed.
Before long they are joined by Ahmed, an extremely thin man holding a small boy with a runny nose and watering eyes. "The camp is closed and they sent us away," he says in heavily accented but understandable English.
"We have nowhere else to go and the children haven't eaten in 24 hours."
The guards at the gates let no one enter unless they have their registration papers, but the families outside are unable to register because the facility is closed.
Munich mayor Dieter Reiter (SPD) announced the closure last Monday because of chronic overfilling.
Several suggestions to alleviate the crisis have been put forward, from using the temporary beer halls erected for the Oktoberfest, to building tent cities to house up to 1,000 people.
While politicians debate the problem, families like Rana and Hassan are in acute need of shelter.
By 5pm some thirty people had gathered outside the Kaserne gates. Locals sometimes pass by and bring sacks of clothing or food.
A woman, who spoke only Arabic approached one group sitting on the grass strip, next to the road, and put down a box containing a cake.
Another woman waiting for the bus tried to stop a police car cruising past the refugee centre, as rain started to come down.
"You have to do something to help these people. There are families here and small children," the woman told the two police officers.
One of the officers explained that he had no authority to move the refugees and nowhere to bring them. With an apologetic shrug he started the car and drove off.
By this time the rain had increased and one of the children started to vomit. "It's the food," explained Ahmed. He pulled a jar of baby food out of the battered canvas sack he carried.
"Our children don't like this - at home they only eat bread and milk."
Bavaria’s state premier Horst Seehofer admitted last week that authorities have underestimated the dramatic increase in refugee numbers.
"In the last three or four days the asylum policy that we have wished for has not been flawlessly implemented," Seehofer told the Bavarian Parliament.
The chaos came to a head last Thursday when some 100 asylum seekers started a spontaneous protest outside the refugee camp.
They are angry about the overcrowding, poor food and long queues for registration.
"The situation is chaotic," conceded Florian Schlämmer, spokesman for the Region of Upper Bavaria. All of the facilities are overfilled and we weren't prepared for the number of refugees that were suddenly flooding our facilities."
The number of refugees arriving in Munich is now 300 a day. The Bayernkaserne, a former military facility dating back to World War II, is the first stop on the long and rather arduous way to political asylum.
It was meant as a temporary camp to house refuges during a process that begins with registration and proceeds through a complete health examination and interview in the asylum seeker's native language.
That process can take up to six weeks.
"The system just broke down," Schlämmer admits. "We weren't prepared for the numbers. Suddenly we had groups of up to 50 arriving together at the Bayernkaserne."
The situation climaxed when the facility designed to house 1,200 filled up to 2,400 refugees.
The city, region and state governments now meet daily in crises committees to solve the problem.
"In Munich two of the main refugee routes cross: the one from the Balkans and the one from Italy," Schlämmer says. "There are no more inner European borders and they rarely get picked up until they arrive here."
As of Thursday a new system is in place. Shuttle buses now stop in front of the Bayernkaserne 24 hours a day to pick up any refuges sleeping rough or arriving in the middle of the night.
They are taken to a new facility at Lotte-Branz-Strasse, a former office complex where everyone is registered and has access to emergency medical care.
Afterwards, they are taken to smaller refugee camps all around the state.
"We are constantly searching for unused schools, factories and warehouses where we can house these people until the registration process is complete," Schlämmer said.
For families like Rana and Hassan this is the first step to a new life. Like most of the refugees from Syria, they are finding it too slow and too painful but they have nowhere else to go.
By Mariana Schroeder
SEE ALSO: 3,000 refugees arrive at Munich station