"We are only at the beginning," Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey said on Tuesday (March 15, 2022) after a Senate meeting. The SPD politician referred to experts who reckoned with about ten million refugees from Ukraine - about a quarter of the country's population. According to UN figures, around three million people have so far left their home country since the start of the Russian attack around three weeks ago.
New arrival center to help refugee situation
Day after day, thousands of refugees from Ukraine disembark from trains at Berlin Central Station, with many more yet to come. The Senate is counting on its new arrival center as well as on the solidarity of the federal and state governments.
Berlin as first port of call in Germany
Ukraine's neighboring countries, including Poland, take on a large share of the burden. However, many Ukrainian people also come to Germany, with Berlin being the first port of call due to its geographical location. According to an inquiry by the German Press Agency, 4650 refugees arrived by train at Berlin Central Station on Monday alone, while another 600 found their way to Berlin by bus. The state has provided temporary accommodation for 1200 people, the others traveled on or found a place to stay on their own.
Giffey calls for federal solidarity
"Berlin continues to take on a significantly larger share of the burden compared to other German states, including the larger territorial states and other major German cities," said Giffey, who has been pushing for nationwide coordination in the distribution of refugees for some time. "That's why the issue of federal solidarity is still of great importance to us." Giffey stated that this would include distribution according to the so-called Königstein Key, a model that has been used for asylum seekers but so far not for war refugees. On Monday, there was another "clarification meeting" with the Federal Ministry of the Interior.
Up to 10,000 registrations planned daily
In the coming days, the Senate hopes to make significant progress in registering people and distributing them to other federal states. Giffey announced that the new arrival center at the former TXL airport will go into operation at the end of the week, but did not give an exact opening date. She said the plan was then to register up to 10,000 arriving refugees per day and make a binding decision straight away on which federal states they would travel on to.
Senate searches for staff
Giffey spoke of a major logistical effort. Around 200 buses would be needed per day just for travel, especially from Berlin Central Station to the new arrival center. In addition, the Senate is currently looking for at least 400 employees to ensure round-the-clock operations at up to 100 counters in the arrival center. Giffey called on employees of the state administration to come forward. The Berlin police and fire departments as well as private service providers, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, and the Federal Police will also provide som staff. A request for assistance to the army had not yet received an official response, Giffey stated.
Around 20,000 refugees accommodated by the Senate so far
According to its own figures, the Senate has provided accommodation for a total of about 20,000 refugees - at least temporarily, in hastily created quarters. Not all of these people are still there. In addition, there is an unknown number of refugees who initially found accommodation privately, but who must register as war refugees if they want to receive state benefits or take up work.
"It's not an easy situation."
Senator for Integration and Social Services Katja Kipping (Left Party) also held out the prospect of procedures that are as unbureaucratic as possible for people who are already in the city. However, she sees new challenges ahead for Berlin: some district social welfare offices, where Ukrainians can apply for emergency aid, are already very busy - and staffing levels are low. "The social welfare offices are not designed for this," Kipping said. "It's not an easy situation."
Low Coronavirus vaccination rates among refugees
The low Corona vaccination status of many new arrivals is also problematic, Kipping said. "We know we're going to have to put a lot of energy and persuasion into this." Another challenge: "We are hearing from Poland that the load limit is slowly being reached there - that means you have to expect a jump in numbers every day," Kipping said, referring to the number of refugees in Berlin. She added that the proportion of people with disabilities or in need of care special support was rising.
Emergency state: "We're not at that point yet."
Despite the complicated situation, Governing Mayor Giffey still refuses to declare a major emergency state, as politicans from the conservative party CDU are demanding. "We will talk about the conditions that would make something like this necessary," she said. "But I stand by my decision, which was also the consensus in the Senate: We're not at that point yet." However, Giffey said, the Senate Department for the Interior has been instructed to develop a basic concept on the topic by the next Senate meeting.