Germany faces refugee crisis as 1 million Ukrainians seek safety

Germany is facing a refugee crisis on an even larger scale than it did in 2015-16, when nearly 1 million asylum-seekers poured into the country, officials said, while Ukrainians are pouring into Europe’s largest economy in search of safety.

“The problem is bigger now than it was at the peak of 2016,” said Reinhard Sager, chair of the German district association, saying the large number of Ukrainians added to the many immigrants from other countries as well as those who arrived in 2015-16.

“The mood in the country threatens to tip over,” said West Hesse Interior Minister Peter Beuth. He called on Berlin to do more to reduce the number of migrants by speeding up the deportation of rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin.

The warnings came at the conclusion of a refugee summit in Berlin aimed at addressing growing calls for help from cities across Germany suffering from the influx of migrants.

The meeting came after official figures released Thursday by the Federal Statistics Office showed that net immigration from Ukraine last year exceeded that from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq between 2014 and 2016 – the peak of the refugee crisis.

“Putin’s criminal war of aggression has unleashed the largest refugee movement since World War II here in the heart of Europe,” said Home Secretary Nancy Faeser, who hosted Thursday’s summit. She added that talks would be held by Easter on additional financial help for struggling municipalities to cope with the influx of migrants.

The comparisons with 2015/16 will cause the power movements in Berlin to shudder and could pose a major challenge for Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa in the mid-2010s plunged the government of his predecessor, Angela Merkel, into one of its biggest political crises, straining relations between Germany and its European neighbors and fueling the rise of the U.S. far-right Alternative for Germany – the most successful far-right party in the country since World War II.

Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, second from left, host of the refugee summit

Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, second from left, who hosted the refugee summit, said: “Putin’s criminal war of aggression has triggered the largest refugee movement since World War II” © Kay Nietfeld/dpa

Andy Grote, Interior Minister of the city-state of Hamburg, said Germany not only has to accommodate 1 million Ukrainians – “we continue to see a large influx of asylum seekers from many other countries of origin”.

Around 1.1 million Ukrainians moved to Germany last year, the Federal Statistical Office said, although some have since returned to their homeland. Germany currently hosts 962,000 Ukrainians, significantly more than the net count of 834,000 from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq between 2014 and 2016, the agency said. Meanwhile, around 218,000 people applied for asylum in Germany last year – the highest number of applications since 2016.

Faeser pleaded for a fairer distribution of Ukrainian refugees in the EU, saying Poland has taken in 1.5 million, Germany 1 million and Spain just 150,000. “It can’t stay like this,” she added.

For months, regional leaders have lamented that they have reached the limit of their capacity to accommodate the newcomers. “The pressure is great and it’s getting bigger every day and every week,” Sager said. “Housing is limited and there are not enough full-time and volunteer staff” to handle the influx. “The municipalities urgently need relief,” he added.

Faeser said the federal government provided the regions with an additional 3.5 billion euros for the accommodation and integration of refugees last year and also pledged 2.75 billion euros this year. Additionally, she said it is making available federal property that could be used to house 70,000 migrants, while also identifying vacant sites suitable for prefabricated “container villages.”

But local leaders expressed disappointment that Faeser had refused to pledge new money for the regions. “Not only did we not make any progress today, but the federal government has made it clear that it is not prepared to continue to support us,” said Sager. He added that a number of refugee support programs previously financed by Berlin have now expired. Germany faces refugee crisis as 1 million Ukrainians seek safety

Adam Bradshaw

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