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Reader question: How is Germany supporting refugees from Ukraine?

With tens of thousands of people arriving in Germany from Ukraine after fleeing war, many are wondering what practical support they are receiving.

Refugees from Ukraine walk to a collection point at the main station in Berlin.
Refugees from Ukraine walk to a collection point at the main station in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Paul Zinken
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We’ve had a few emails from readers asking us how Germany provides practical support to refugees from Ukraine. We’ll look at parts of the country like Berlin which is heavily affected in more detail soon. First here’s an overview of what people fleeing from Ukraine – and German residents helping them – should know. 

How many refugees from Ukraine is Germany expecting?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is driving tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, two million people have now fled to Ukraine’s neighbouring countries, most of them to Poland.

Migration researcher Gerald Knaus believes it’s possible that a total of 10 million people will flee Ukraine. According to estimates, up to 225,000 people from Ukraine could seek protection in Germany.

On Monday authorities said more than 50,200 people had registered in Germany so far but the real number is likely higher. Most of the refugees are women, children or vulnerable people. That’s because Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave their home country.

READ ALSO: How people in Germany can support Ukraine

Who can enter Germany freely?

Under normal circumstances Ukrainians with a biometric passport can enter Germany for 90 days without a visa, and they do not have to register with authorities during this time. To stay longer, refugees would have to register with authorities. However, EU countries have agreed to apply a special rule that will ease the process. (more on that below). 

People fleeing Ukraine queue for information about trains and tickets at a train station in Przemysl, Poland.

People fleeing Ukraine queue for information about trains and tickets at a train station in Przemysl, Poland. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Markus Schreiber

People without Ukrainian passports can also enter under certain conditions: they must have lived legally in Ukraine before the invasion of the Russian army February 24th, for example through a national or international protection status or with a student visa.

Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) said on Sunday that refugees from Ukraine would be accepted regardless of where they are originally from.

“We want to save lives,” she said. “This does not depend on the passport.

“The vast majority of refugees are Ukrainians. People from other countries who already had a permanent right of residence in Ukraine bring this status with them,” she explained.

Faeser said that many students who are not from Ukraine want to return to their home country, but need to do it through another country due to the situation.

Faeser said there would be no upper limit on the admission of Ukrainian refugees to Germany.

“For the first time, all EU states are taking in war refugees, especially our eastern neighbours. This is a completely different situation than we have had in Europe so far.”

According to the refugee organisation Pro Asyl, however, not all EU countries fully implement these rules. They have raised concerns about some eastern EU states not allowing non-Ukrainians to enter the country as refugees. 

A woman with a pram sits in a reception centre for refugees from Ukraine in Leipzig.

A woman with a pram sits in a reception centre for refugees from Ukraine in Leipzig. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

Do refugees from Ukraine have to apply for asylum?

No. After an EU meeting last week, it was decided that those fleeing the war will be granted temporary protection in all EU countries.

The Temporary Protection Directive will apply to any Ukrainians who want to come to an EU country. The corresponding regulation from Germany’s Interior Ministry is to come into force on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: EU countries agree to lift visa rules for Ukrainians fleeing war

The protection status is valid for one year, and it can be extended to up to three years. It means people fleeing war in Ukraine won’t have to apply for asylum (which is a long drawn-out process) or for a visa. 

If someone is suspected of having committed serious crimes or is a danger to the general public, authorities can refuse temporary protection, however.

Where do Ukrainian refugees find accommodation?

Many Ukrainians have relatives or friends in Germany. These contacts are likely to make communication and arrival much easier overall. According to the Federal Statistical Office, 331,000 people with a Ukrainian migration background live in Germany.

In the past few days, a particularly large number of people have arrived in Berlin. As in other federal states, they are accommodated in arrival centres, emergency accommodation, hotels and youth hostels.

There is still no uniform nationwide procedure for registering refugees in Germany. Ukrainians should register at initial reception centres or immigration offices so they can receive social benefits and be advised on what to do next. Despite this there have been lots of reports of confusion. 

The federal government is providing 50,000 accommodation places throughout Germany, many of which are already occupied, according to the Interior Ministry.  Another 5,000 spots could be added in the short term.

Since the beginning of the week, the Nuremberg Federal Office for Migration has been assisting with the nationwide accommodation of refugees.

How many people each federal state will bring in has not yet been clarified. Usually, the so-called “Königstein Key” applies. It is calculated on the basis of tax revenue and population. According to this, Bavaria, for instance, would have to accommodate and care for about 15 percent of refugees.

Many volunteers have offered to take in people temporarily. On the site, hosts have already promised more than 260,000 beds.

READ ALSO: Eastern German states ready to welcome large number of refugees from Ukraine

How and where are people arriving?

Most people are currently arriving in Berlin by train and bus – about 10,000 people a day. Rail operator Deutsche Bahn is offering free train travel for any Ukrainian national or resident heading from Poland to Germany.

Solidarity and willingness to help are enormous, but the authorities in the capital have asked for more support.

“Berlin can’t do it alone,” said Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey at the weekend. People who have fled the war in Ukraine are also arriving in Hamburg, Bavaria and eastern German states.

What benefits do refugees from Ukraine receive, and can they work?

They initially receive a temporary secure residence title and benefits under the Asylum Seekers’ Benefits Act, which are mainly funded by the states.

Meanwhile, refugees can gain employment with the approval from immigration authorities (the Ausländerbehörde).

Can Ukrainian children attend school in Germany?

Yes, the EU directive provides for access to the education system of the host country. German states are preparing to admit the children to certain extra classes so that German is also taught as a foreign language.

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Member comments

  1. Whete is this so called government help? Giffey in berlin is a liar. I have 3 ukraine people living with me. I can’t communicate without google translate. They are ill. I have been to every government office only to be told nothing is set up yet. Germany is doing nothing except talking. Lying ass holes

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Reader question: Is it ever too hot to work from home in Germany?

Germany has regulations on working during a heatwave - but does that also apply to people who work remotely? We take a look.

Reader question: Is it ever too hot to work from home in Germany?

The number of people working from home shot up during the Covid pandemic, and though employees no longer have the right to work remotely by law, many have chosen to stick with more flexible arrangements and set up a home office at least part of the week.

This is great news for people who enjoy a lie-in more than a long commute, but there are some downsides. One major issue is that it’s not always clear how Germany’s strict employee protection rules actually apply in a home setting. The rules for working during a heatwave are a good example of this.

How does Germany regulate working in extreme heat? 

By law in Germany, employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for their workers. This means that they should try and keep the temperature below 26C at all times and are legally obliged to take action if the temperature goes above 30C. 

That could include putting blinds on the windows to prevent the glare of the sun, installing air conditioning systems or purchasing fans. In some cases – such as outdoor manual labour – it could also involve starting and finishing earlier in the day. 

And in really high temperatures, employers may simply decide to call the whole thing off and give their employees a ‘hitzefrei’ day – basically a heat-induced day off – to go and cool down in a lake. However, business owners are generally given free rein to decide how hot is too hot in this instance (except in the case of vulnerable workers). 

READ ALSO: Hitzefrei: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

Do the heat rules apply to ‘home office?’

Unfortunately not. In most cases in Germany, the company isn’t directly involved in setting up the workspace for an employee that works from home, aside from possibly providing a laptop or phone for remote use. 

“The occupational health and safety regulations regarding room temperature do not apply in this case,” labour law expert Meike Brecklinghaus told German business publication T3N. “This is because the employer does not have direct access to the employee’s workplace and in this respect cannot take remedial action.”

That means that on hot days, it’s the employee’s own responsibility to make sure the environment is suitable for working in. 

woman works from home in Germany

A woman works in her living room at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Naupold

One duty employers do have, however, is to instruct their workers about the best way to set up a healthy work environment at home, for example by giving guidance on how to regulate the temperature. 

“In the end, it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain his or her workplace in a condition in which he or she can perform his or her work without the threat of health impairments,” Brecklinghaus explained.

What can home office workers do in hot weather?

There are plenty of ways to keep flats cooler in the summer months, including purchasing your own fan, keeping curtains or blinds drawn and ventilating the rooms in the evening or early morning when the weather is cooler.

However, if heat is really becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to communicate this to your employer. This is especially important if you have a health condition that makes it more dangerous to work in hot weather. 

In some cases, you might be able to negotiate for the employer to pay for the purchase of a fan or mobile air conditioner as goodwill gesture. If possible, you could also arrange to travel to the office where the temperature should be better regulated.

Another option for early birds or night owls is to arrange more flexible working hours so you can avoid sweltering at your desk in the midday sun, although this of course depends on operational factors. 

READ ASO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?