Germany has welcomed 1.1 million Ukrainians and lacks places to house them – National

The smell of hard-boiled and rotten eggs stands out in Kateryna’s memory of her six months living in a refugee camp in Berlin.

“When you peel them, the smell is horrible,” she says. “Yellow is black.”

She has a collection of photos and videos on her phone of inedible food that she says was served to Ukrainian refugees in the camp at the former Tegel airport. Black sandwich bread with mold. Little white worms crawling on a cup of yogurt.

But the food, and the resulting stomach problems, she said, were just one of the problems plaguing the camp.

As the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine approaches, Kateryna is one of a million Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in Germany hoping to start their lives anew. This process, however, was more confusing, stressful and longer than expected.

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Kateryna sits outside the Tegel Airport refugee camp in September 2023.

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The 38-year-old and his two teenage daughters shared a room that accommodated up to a dozen people, with only a thin curtain separating their unit from hundreds of others. Bunk beds lined the walls, draped with clothes and sheets for some semblance of privacy. After her daughter’s phone and passport were stolen, they began taking turns leaving the room.

“There is no security here. Every day we are nervous because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” said Kateryna. Global News is not using her full name because she fears reprisals from camp management.

More than 4,400 refugees and asylum seekers live at the old airport and in large white tents erected on the runway tarmac, according to state officials.

As Germany welcomes Ukrainians and pours billions of dollars into Ukraine, thousands of refugees are stuck in limbo, caught between a strained immigration system and a housing crisis in the capital.

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In Berlin, public refugee housing is almost at capacity, urban shelters are full, and new arrivals face discrimination in an already highly competitive housing market. The Tegel camp keeps people off the streets but could close later this year. The question now facing the State: where will all these people go?

The Tegel arrival center in Berlin was designed as a one-stop shop: Ukrainians would register, receive temporary resident status and a work permit. They would be assigned to live in one of Germany’s 16 states and given a train ticket to get there.

Refugees and asylum seekers check in at the arrival center at Tegel Airport.

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“Thousands of refugees were arriving every day and we needed a large space where we could both register in large numbers and have accommodation inside,” said Monika Hebbinghaus, spokesperson. word of the State Office for Refugees in Berlin. “It was a big enough place to do it.”

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The airport was closed in 2020 and was used as a vaccination clinic throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. At the start of the war it was quickly transformed into a registration center and emergency shelter. Now, two years later, the old airport has become its own pseudo-community.

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The coalition of humanitarian organizations that runs the camp have set up various activities to keep people busy. There is a basketball court, a paved soccer field and a small garden outside the tents.

Inside there are play areas for children, a donated clothing store and classrooms. Although people were grateful, there was a palpable sense of frustration and confusion in the camp.

A woman waits in the area where dinner will be served.

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Refugees in Tegel must find their own housing rather than wait for public housing to become available, Hebbinghaus said, but of the 10 people interviewed by Global News last September, all are expected to be placed in government-owned housing.

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Unable to speak German or English, many said they did not even know how to go about finding somewhere to live on their own.

“We are waiting for an apartment. We thought we would be provided with accommodation,” said Volodymyr, 37, who has been living in Tegel for five months with his wife and four children, all under the age of five.

He said that after a few months, they tried to look for an apartment, but the language barrier made it “impossible.”

Across Germany, 2022 marked the biggest drop in vacancy rates in 20 years, according to to real estate consultancy CBRE and research firm Empirica. The vacancy rate in the city of Berlin is estimated at around 0.3 percent.

Volodymyr and his children roam the camp while waiting for state housing.

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Last fall, the German government announcement an aid program of 45 billion euros (66 billion Canadian dollars) to encourage the construction of new housing. High interest rates and changes in building requirements have slowed the construction of new apartment complexes.

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After the 2016 refugee crisis overwhelmed the country, the Senate passed a law to build 12,000 modular housing units for refugees, in hopes that Germany would be better equipped to handle a new influx of this kind. Eight years later, about two-thirds have been built, but not all are operational, Hebbinghaus said.

“Certainly capacity is now very stretched,” she said. “I think overall we don’t need more housing for refugees, but more affordable apartments for everyone. »

It’s normal to see 50 to 60 people waiting in line to view an apartment in Berlin, said Hafid Shaaib, a housing advocate who works at Zusammenleben Willkommen, a nonprofit that connects refugees and applicants. asylum with Berliners who have an extra room in their apartment.

“The owner is looking: who has the money? Who has a secure job? Shaaib said.

Hafid Shaaib’s phone rings non-stop most of the time. It tries to help refugees and asylum seekers find accommodation in Berlin and other cities in Germany.

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Being unemployed and having temporary residency papers also works against newcomers, he said.

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“These people, for the most part, are victims of discrimination, especially those who are still in the camps,” he said.

In the fall, when Kateryna tried to arrange for her and her daughters to move into a hostel, she said their arrangement was canceled when she revealed she was currently living at Tegel Airport.

Kleopatra Tümmler, who works for the German Red Cross, one of several nonprofit organizations that run the camp, said the situation is not ideal, but Red Cross workers are doing their best. better to accommodate the continued flow of people to Germany.

“These circumstances should be different, but since it is built like this and is currently completely filled, we have no chance to change it,” Tümmler said.

The camp was recently expanded to accommodate an additional 2,500 people, bringing the total capacity to approximately 7,000 people. While the number of Ukrainian refugees entering Germany has declined, the influx of asylum seekers has further strained services. More than 260,600 files were processed in 2023, according to with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

Inside the camp, tensions were high between Ukrainian refugees and newly arrived migrants from Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Georgia and Moldova. Navigating limited camp resources, such as laundry and showers, as well as language barriers and cultural differences, poses daily challenges. With so many people living in such close quarters, Tümmler says she can understand why people are fed up.

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Unless the Senate votes to extend the camp’s operations, it will be closed by the end of the year so that major redevelopment of the site can begin. The old airport will be transformed into a “smart city”, with a residential district, a nature reserve, a university campus and a start-up hub.

A man sits outside the airport shelter and looks at his phone.

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“But until then I think we have to keep this place until the last minute,” Tümmler said.

Berlin is looking for sites that could be redeveloped for 20 “container villages” and 10 new housing projects.

After six months in Tegel, Kateryna moved to another refugee camp at the disused Tempelhof airport in Berlin. She is now planning to look for an apartment in another region of Germany where accommodation is more available.

She visited Frankfurt in January – and for the first time since arriving in Germany almost a year ago – Kateryna said she had hope. She is enrolled in a language course, plans to update her driver’s license so she can get a job as a driver and hopes her daughters will be able to return to school soon.

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“As soon as we move into an apartment, hotel or hostel, we will have the opportunity to build a different life,” she said.

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