German Cities Ban Refugees Amid Struggles to Integrate Them

Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: AFP

Although Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Refugees Welcome” policy has been a saving grace to asylum seekers, more and more cities in Germany are moving to ban arrivals of new refugees, as the public stance toward them has become more anti-immigrant.

Earlier this month, the city of Cottbus, located some 120 kilometers southeast from Berlin, temporarily banned new refugees from arrival. The move has reportedly been made in an attempt to contain the number of violent incidents.

Cottbus joined Salzgitter, Delmenhorst, and Wilhelmshaven, which implemented similar prohibitions last year.

Salzgitter passed a waiver in October to forbid refugees to reside in the city due to their great influx.

Frank Klingebiel, the city’s mayor, said 5,800 refugees who had arrived there within the past two years were overwhelming Salzgitter and its schools.

“At the beginning of 2016, there were 2,000 refugees, most of which came from 2015. However, everything was still running smoothly. Today, there are 5,800 refugees which is too many in such a short amount of time,” Mr. Klingebiel said in an interview with Focus Online, a German outlet.

Erwin Warkentin, Associate Professor at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, told The Globe Post that often the decision on where to send refugees is based on immediate practicalities.

“Where do we have a spare roof to put over their heads is likely the first one,” he said.

Abandoned Army bases have proven to be the most convenient places to house asylum seekers.

“Many of these are found in places like Salzgitter. This means that they have a quick and easy way of providing shelter and a means of providing food,” Mr. Warkentin explained.

A refugee holds a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel
A refugee holds a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the arrival of refugees at the main train station in Munich, southern Germany, September 05, 2015. Hundreds of refugees arrived in Germany on September 5, 2015 coming from Hungary and Austria. Photo: AFP

According to Mayor Klingebiel, Salzgitter always welcomed refugees and drew them in due to cheap and empty living spaces. There is also an existing Syrian community in the city, which made newly arrived feel welcome.

The three cities that proposed the ban last year were planning to use the break to give the existing refugee community a chance to integrate. Salzgitter’s population has grown by 5 percent in two years.

Mr. Warkentin said that although housing of refugees at an Army base was done with the best intentions, people living there have been separated, which created an “undesirable air of mystery around them.”

In order to help the refugees, authorities should “integrate [them] as quickly as possible by providing mandatory German classes as well as being paired up with German families,” he added.

Mayor Klingebiel complained that the city needed “more resources, more teachers, education, social workers, and language training.” However, there is not enough money, despite an emergency fund of 11 million euros from the German government included in the 2017-2018 budget.

Nevertheless, according to Mr. Warkentin, cities should not ban the refugees, but rather ask appropriate authorities to send them elsewhere, since many asylum seekers arrive together at a given time.

“The German government needs a master plan for the central talk of integration and a full refund to the municipality per refugee,” Mr. Klingebiel has said.

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