Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Germans opening their homes to refugees

  • A quarter of the German population would share their homes or offer housing to a refugee (Photo: IOM.int)

Some Germans, including one MP, are hosting migrants in their own homes to relieve overwhelmed official agencies.

Martin Patzelt, from chancellor Angela Merkel's christian-democrat party (CDU), went against the stream in his political group and opened his home to two Eritrean refugees.

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  • Green, left-wing but also conservative German politicians think citizens should be encouraged to host refugees (Photo: Caruso Pinguin)

He has been getting death threats ever since, like other Germans who are willing to accommodate refugees. But, according to a survey by polling institute Emnid, a quarter of the German population would share their homes or offer housing to a refugee.

"I didn't want any refugees in my life, but they came. And I took the challenge”, says Martin Patzelt.

He offered the top floor of his home in Briesen, in Brandenburg, to Awet (24) and Haben (19) - two Eritrean refugees he met in the Eisenhuettenstadt refugee center.

Patzelt says he got the cold shoulder from fellow politicians after his decision. "They told me no one would ever vote for you anymore”, the MP, who represents a small east-German village of 2,500 people, notes.

He adds that he’s convinced that as soon as the refugees get names and faces, hostile attitudes will change.

Germany is expecting about 450,000 asylum applications this year, twice as many as in 2014.

Over 1,000 asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa, and the Western Balkans arriving each day are close to overwhelming the country’s capacity to cope.

The German agency for migration and refugees says it is struggling with overcrowded shelters, using temporary accommodation in tents and school gyms, and says it lacks adequate medical support.

Hostile attitudes

The developments have prompted a surge in anti-immigrant and racist attitudes.

Some groups have responded with weekly arson attacks on shelters, others have been issuing death threats and organising anti-migrant rallies.

Patzelt, a member of the human rights committee and the sub-committee for civic involvement in the Bundestag, thinks civil society engagement is vital to prevent a split in the German population.

A practicing Christian and father of five, he has faced threats and now requires special protection from the Federal Criminal Agency.

He is not the only one welcoming refugees in his home, however.

Mareike Geiling and her flatmate decided to accommodate a Malian refugee in their shared flat in Berlin.

It came out of the need to sublet Mareike's room while she spent 10 months in Cairo.

"We have been discussing the miserable situation of asylum seekers with my flatmate and we thought we would simply offer the room to a refugee”, says Geiling, a former culture and religion student, who provided German lessons for asylum seekers in Berlin.

Just like Patzelt, she thinks Europeans have a duty to help.

"We covered his share of the rent by asking family and friends to contribute with a few euros each month. There was not much more to it, really. He eats, sleeps and does the same things we do, so at the end we aren't so different at all”, she notes.

Refugees Welcome

Soon after, she launched the Fluechtlinge Willkommen initiative.

The aim is to accommodate refugees in families or in shared flats instead of in mass accommodation.

Seventy refugees have already been placed in German homes after finding a matching domestic environment.

Geiling and her three colleagues in the newly-founded NGO work day and night to make sure both the refugees and their hosts are fit to live under the same roof.

Fluechtlinge Willkommen has also inspired an Austrian network to join the project.

When Geiling returned from Cairo, the refugee subletting her room had to find a new place to live.

“It was much easier to find, simply by posting that our flatmate needed a room, instead of saying that a refugee is looking for a place to stay”, she recalls.

Many people are willing to share their homes with refugees, but it is important to carefully scan the applications, she says.

She also recalls peculiar cases in which a family specified that they prefer a woman refugee who should be vegan, or another offer to host a homosexual refugee for three months.

Geiling sees herself as taking over a task which public authorities have failed to address. The official agencies in charge, as well as established NGOs, are increasingly relying on similar grassroots initiatives.

But Geiling says it is not enough to praise her project and tat some financial support should be granted for those who work to alleviate the massive accommodation problems which asylum seekers face.

Financial support

Green, left-wing, and some conservative politicians also think citizens should be encouraged to host refugees.

Dieter Janecek, from the Green party, has suggested that an incentive of €20 a day should be offered by the federal state to every citizen hosting a refugee.

Rent and running costs up to a limit are already covered by authorities for every refugee living in private homes.

Meanwhile, Awet and Haben, Patzelt's two new Eritrean housemates, are making progress by being allowed to manage their lives outside of a refugee shelter.

One of them is getting work experience in the village supermarket and the other is attending a training course to be an electrician. He has been promised a full-time contract once he completes the course.

Fear in the German population has grown bigger than the real concerns, says the CDU MP.

In the east-German village of Briesen, which has almost no experience of foreigners, no one has followed Patzelt's exemple.

But a retired lady in Briesen voluntarily gives German lessons to Awet and Haben, and some locals now invite refugees for meals or trips, as well as welcoming them in their church communities.

EU calls for solidarity on migrant crisis

EU migration commissioner Avramopoulos has announced emergency aid for Greece, Hungary, and Austria, while asking member states to show "collective courage".

UK and Germany talk tough on migrants

The British and German governments have called for a new crackdown on migrants, in statements denounced as populist rhetoric by left-wing politicians.

Chemnitz neo-Nazis pose questions for Germany

UN human rights commissioner urged EU leaders to condemn violence that recalled the 1930s, but the local situation in former East Germany does not apply to the whole country.

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