We spend a couple of nights in Köln before taking a flight to Berlin where we will stay with Ines for a week. We are full of the impressions from the Jungle, so conversation with my sister and her husband centres a lot around the current plight of the refugees. We hear that in Germany, after München having been overwhelmed by the amount of refugees arriving from Austria, various cities now take turns to receive refugees by the hundreds. It so happens that this weekend, it is the turn for Köln – several train loads are due to arrive this night, bringing in the region of 1300 refugees in the space of 24 hours. They arrive at the train station of the airport, from where they go to a reception area where they get basic help, food, water, clothes, medical first aid and access to the internet. From there, they are taken to a tent city that has been built for the purpose, after which they are relocated to more permanent locations, individual or group housing all across Nordrhein Westfalen (a county about the size of Wales), with many agencies cooperating to make this transition as smooth as possible. The aim is to get them distributed quickly and to enable them to integrate and work as soon as possible.
Normally a stickler for regulations, Germany has waived a number of building regs to allow old buildings to be used which don’t conform to the standard regulations for public housing, such as school halls, old army barracks etc., to give people a roof over their heads as soon as possible. Bayer, a big chemical factory, has given the option of 8 days paid leave to its workers if they choose to help the charities who deal with the arrival of the refugees.
Managers of big companies go into the tent cities to headhunt trained personel. Job checks still have to be made, to assure there isn’t a German (and then European!) worker who could take the job, but they are being sped up from 15 months down to 3 months, to get people into a working situation asap, to avoid tax spending and help people acclimatise. There is a strong recognition that not allowing someone to work will hugely increase the problems, especially with young male adults and heads of families. There is such a contrast to the long waiting times in the UK!!!
There is a thought that this wave of refugees might be the more wealthier and more educated part of the population – people who had the money to buy themselves a costly place on a dodgy boat – and that the next wave will be the less moneyed. People feel that once the refugees are on their way, one has to open their countries to them, it would be inhumane not to. However, there is a feeling amongst Germans that other countries should take their fair share too, or if not, contribute money towards a European refugee fund. One radio speaker floated the figure of 6500 Euros per refugee, which would help bridge the gap between their arrival and their contributing to the society. There is an understanding that one cannot force a quota of refugees on a society which has a strongly negative attitude towards them (such as Hungary), it wouldn’t be fair on those seeking to find a place for a peaceful existence.
Germany is set to receive 800 000 refugees this year alone. Compare that with 20 000 in the next 5 years that Cameron has been pushed to agree to allow into the UK as a whole. Germany also has a strong military presence in the Mediterranean to aid with sea rescue operations (and secondarily to help catch human traffickers) – for the German army this is the largest military operation outside of Germany since the second world war.
What do people here think of the situation in Calais? They think that the way France and the UK treat refugees is ‘Menschenverachtend’. Google translates this as ‘inhuman’, but I would say it’s an even stronger word than that. ‘Menschenverachtend’ literally means ‘despising of humans’.
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