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German Politicians Warn That Winter Will Hit Refugees Hard

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 16/10/2015 Sara Elkamel
ATHENA IMAGE © Sean Gallup/Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

MUNICH -- The refugee crisis is out of control. Asylum applications aren't being processed quickly enough and refugees aren't being housed. Little is left of the initial euphoria refugees had of arriving in a new, safe country -- and many Germans no longer trust Chancellor Angela Merkel, who they believe has let down people in need.

As winter sets in, there are worries about how the cold weather will affect the refugees. The first snow of the season has already fallen in the states of Saxony, Bavaria and Rhineland-Palatine, and across Germany the nights are chilly. Despite the falling temperatures, 42,000 refugees are still being housed in temporary tents. Relief organization Caritas has issued warnings that refugees could die of the cold.

German authorities are desperately trying to find permanent housing for refugees. The only question is: how will that be possible?

The federal government is optimistic. "Our hope is that no refugee would freeze to death in Germany," Thomas Strobl, chairman of the governing Christian Democratic Union party, told HuffPost Germany. However local and state politicians paint a more alarming picture. 

Rhineland-Palatinate: "The situation has been ignored for far too long."

In Rhineland-Palatinate, the situation is particularly alarming. In early October, roughly a third of the 9,000 refugees there were still living in tents -- which has alarmed the state government.

A spokeswoman for the agency responsible for receiving refugees said: "We are trying to get people permanent accommodation. The country is searching, building, and opening new facilities." She said that heated tents would only be considered an option in an "absolute emergency."

"To assume tents are safe shelters in the winter is unrealistic,” said CDU member Juila Klöckner. “People need to be housed humanely, regardless of their prospects of staying.”

She also accused the state government of serious failures. "The situation has been ignored for far too long, even though the accommodation issue should have been anticipated. While other states took precautions, and ordered containers and built suitable residential properties, the Red-Green ruled Rhineland Palatinate is still waiting."

North Rhine-Westphalia: "The federal government is too slow."

Fifteen thousand refugees still live in tents in North Rhine-Westphalia as the community has been too slow to provide accommodation for refugees. Joachim Stamp, vice chairman of the Free Democratic Party,  also said  the government is to blame.

"No one can make guarantees, but the local authorities have to provide massive relief now, in order to winter-proof the shelters,” he said. “The federal government, overall, is too slow to take action."

Hamburg: "No one can guarantee the life or the death of another person."

In an official statement released Wednesday, Hamburg's Mayor Olaf Scholz said: "No one can guarantee the life or the death of another person." He admitted that he doesn’t think Hamburg is able to  accommodate refugees in winter-safe facilities. "Approximately 3,000 refugees currently sleep in unheated shelters," he said.

And that's a disgrace.

On Tuesday, refugees held up signs reading: "We're cold" and "Please help us," reported the Hamburger Morgenpost.

"The accommodation situation for many refugees is currently extremely difficult,” Antje Möller, refugee policy spokeswoman for the Green parliamentary group in Hamburg, told HuffPost Germany. The priority in Hamburg, she said, is to promptly extract families and children from the tents.

Bremen: "It's uncertain whether we can dismantle all the tents before winter."

In Bremen, roughly 1,000 people currently live in tents. It's not a pleasant situation, but it’s also not life-threatening, according to Senator for Social Affairs and Inclusion Anja Stahmann, from The Green party. "All facilities, even those that are temporary or are used for a short transitional period, are heated, and the tents have solid flooring," she told HuffPost Germany. "This ensures that no one will freeze." Temporary buildings have been acquired in anticipation of the winter. "However, it is uncertain whether we can dismantle all the tents before winter, at the current tent sites."

Maike Schäfer, president of the Green party in Bremen's city parliament, said this is possible because of a law that allows empty commercial buildings to be repurposed in emergency situations.  In addition, efforts are being made "to move people into private homes."

Hessen: "The Caritas warning is stunning."

Hessen state has the highest rate of refugees living in tents -- about 8,000. The spokesman for the regional council of Hessian Kassel, Michael Conrad, was very blunt in his interview with HuffPost Germany: " The Caritas warning is stunning . It is bullshit. We've heated the tents since day one, and won't change that now. Anyway, we're replacing the tents one by one with containers. No one needs to freeze, or fear the cold. Everyone is exerting a great deal of effort to keep the refugees warm!"

Bavaria: "The approaching winter is a big problem."

Bavaria is one of the federal states that has been hit hardest by the refugee crisis. Recently, Justice Minister Winfried Bausback, from the Christian Social Union party, warned that the "existence of the state" is threatened. However, the state is well-prepared for winter. Only 1,300 refugees currently live in tents. "The problem is there, but it’s manageable,” he said.

“We expect the authorities won't risk that people freeze here," Stefan Dünnwald of the refugee council in Bavaria said.

Rosenheim is one of those cities receiving masses of refugees. The city, located in Bavaria, has the first major train station past the Germany-Austria border.

"No one has to freeze in the refugee and asylum seekers accommodations in the city of Rosenheim. All facilities have ... sensible heating," said CSU representative and Mayor Gabriele Bauer.

Claudia Stamm, refugee politics spokeswoman for the Green party, is still alarmed. "The upcoming winter is a problem, and actually a big one. Municipalities and cities cannot allow refugees to live in tents during the winter. Even if the tents are heated, you would still need to leave the tent and shower in the snow."

The search for emergency accommodation is increasingly difficult in metropolitan areas.

This story originally appeared on HuffPost Germany and has been translated into English. It has been edited for clarity.

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