Gernot Schmidt is immediately quite clear. “The core problem is that the state and federal government make it very easy for themselves,” says the SPD district administrator. His Märkisch-Oderland district east of Berlin has taken in 5,000 refugees since 2015. Above all, families would come and stay with him in the region. Now living space is scarce, there are no day-care centers and schools. “It all depends on the expansion of the infrastructure,” says Schmidt. More investments and less bureaucracy are needed so that construction can be carried out more quickly.

Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser has been hearing calls for help from the municipalities for weeks. At another refugee summit this Thursday, the SPD politician wants to consult with states and municipalities – for the second time in four months. Local politicians are demanding reliable financing for the accommodation of the refugees, but also fairer distribution and the deportation of rejected asylum seekers. Some would have preferred to negotiate with Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD). But Scholz leaves the search for a solution to the responsible minister.

The Union criticizes that. CDU domestic politician Alexander Throm thinks Faeser has “nothing to offer the states and municipalities”. Green MP Karoline Otte, a member of the Bundestag Committee for Housing, Urban Development, Construction and Municipalities, sees things differently. But she also expects that a second round will have to follow in order to give the municipalities more financial planning security.

The payment

After the Russian attack on Ukraine, more than a million people came to Germany from the war zone in 2022. In addition, 217,774 people from Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey and other countries applied for asylum here for the first time last year – more than since 2016. In January 2023, 29,072 asylum applications were added. Faeser said at an event organized by the German Press Agency earlier this week: “It’s very difficult, but it’s difficult because Putin started this war. Eight out of ten refugees come from Ukraine, which accounts for the large number.”

The shelter

“Many municipalities have already reached the limit when it comes to accommodating refugees,” says a paper by the Association of Towns and Municipalities. The refugees from the Ukraine in particular are often first accommodated in families or holiday apartments, but this capacity is “used up”, reported District Administrator Onno Eckert from the Thuringian district of Gotha a few days ago on Deutschlandfunk. Now asylum seekers are added.

“All in all, it’s a challenge,” said the SPD politician. There are 400 places in community accommodation with him, but few free apartments.

According to research by the Migration Media Service, almost 74,000 admission places have been created nationwide since March 2022. Overall, the structures are heavily utilized. But there are differences: In Bavaria, 90 percent of the places in initial reception centers are occupied, in Hesse 50 percent.

Faeser also said: “The stress situation varies, it is very precarious in some areas.” This included the SPD politician in Leipzig, where tent cities are being set up. Faeser has already promised to make more vacant federal buildings available for refugees. It doesn’t work that fast everywhere. Some local politicians are also hoping for vacant properties in the federal states.

The distribution

The general rule is: Regions with economic strength are assigned a relatively large number of people seeking protection, but they often have little affordable housing. It is precisely for this reason that local politicians from the Main-Taunus district – in the vicinity of Faeser’s place of residence in Hesse – demanded different criteria from Chancellor Scholz for the allocation of new refugees.

Cottbus and the neighboring district of Spree-Neisse also called for a “fairer distribution” this week. According to the key, the city should have taken in 1,120 asylum seekers, but has already accommodated more than 1,400. The reason is probably less the economic strength than the proximity to the Polish border. A different distribution in Germany, which is felt to be “fair” by all, is likely to be difficult.

The Association of Towns and Municipalities is therefore calling for faster asylum procedures and a “repatriation offensive” for a “more targeted distribution” of people seeking protection throughout the EU. “The municipalities need a “breathing space” when taking in refugees,” says the municipal association. However, the distribution discussion at EU level has been fruitless for years.

What else is needed

Above all, the children who fled from the Ukraine with their mothers need day-care centers and schools – although there is already a shortage of teachers and educators in metropolitan areas. District Administrator Schmidt from Märkisch-Oderland points to the potential for conflict: the children have a right to education, but if the groups and classes get too big, the other parents are resentful.

Schmidt is also in favor of immediately giving asylum seekers a work permit, similar to the refugees from Ukraine. Again and again he hears complaints from citizens that those who arrive have stayed in social systems for years.

The Protestant pastor Lukas Pellio from Spremberg in Brandenburg, who has been taking care of refugees for years, sees it in a similar way. Pellio believes that Ukrainians and people from other countries should not be treated differently. “Suddenly there are good refugees and bad ones.” Migration and social policy should not be played off against each other either.

In Saxony, where there are again protests against the accommodation of refugees in some places, the district of Central Saxony wants to break new ground: It wants to slip into the role of the builder itself in order to create inexpensive living space – for a total of 500 people. In this way, the refugees could be distributed more fairly regionally. So far, the cities of Freiberg and Hainichen have been disproportionately burdened. “This creates problems that could be avoided,” says the district office. However, such a new building still needs 16 to 18 months from approval to completion.

No ad hoc policy

An open letter from the general manager of the Paritätischer Gesamtverband, Ulrich Schneider, and others this week advised sustainable structures. Crises and disasters can always come as a surprise:

“Accommodation for refugees must be available in sufficient numbers, even though we are aware that this may entail costs for municipalities and other providers. Otherwise, people will become homeless, and that can become even more expensive.” Containers or gyms are at most a short-term solution.