In the East Thuringian town of Greiz, District Administrator Martina Schweinsburg has imposed a freeze on the admission of refugees. And she is by no means the only one in Germany. Since significantly more people have been fleeing to Germany again, the districts have come under considerable pressure. In order to give people the essentials, the CDU politician Schweinsburg had tents set up in the summer. Inside: 72 sparse bedsteads with mattresses, tightly packed. But the tents are not suitable for cold November nights. The permanent accommodation has long been overcrowded. Nevertheless, ten days ago, a bus came from the central reception center in Suhl, which is also bursting at the seams.
The district has taken in more refugees this year than ever before. In 2016, the year of the peak of the so-called refugee crisis, almost a thousand asylum seekers came to Greiz. This year there are already 1650, and the trend is rising. That was not foreseeable at all at the beginning of the year, says Schweinsburg. At that time, they had less than fifty asylum seekers in the district and kept free space for Afghan local workers, which remained empty for a long time.
Then Russia invaded the Ukraine, and a few days later women, children and the elderly in particular, fleeing Putin’s war, also arrived in Greiz. Many came directly by car or bus, and they often spent the night with relatives or friends. The willingness to help in the region, Schweinsburg recalls, was “huge”. But now the mood is changing.
Within a very short time, the district organized 390 apartments with private landlords, including housing associations, because the district only has two communal accommodations with a total of 68 places. The administration had a container village with eighty beds dismantled last year, for lack of demand and because the lease was expiring. “In May we noticed for the first time that things were going to be tight,” says Schweinsburg. A good 500 refugees had arrived in Greiz, a month later there were already 800.
Fire letter to the state government
In addition to the Ukrainians, there were suddenly more asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. After the end of the travel restrictions caused by Corona, they made their way to Germany via the Balkan route. They now make up a quarter of all refugees in the district.
“The problem is the lack of accommodation,” says Schweinsburg. Thuringia’s Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow said that there were empty apartments everywhere. But apart from the fact that many of them have not been renovated, the district cannot dispose of them easily. He has to rent apartments, but that too suddenly became difficult in July. Several private landlords began terminating their contracts with the county. This was also due to the fact that at that time large Roma families were suddenly distributed among the districts. They came from western Ukraine and had in turn been forwarded to Thuringia from other federal states. However, it was difficult to find housing for the families, which numbered up to eighty people.
During this time, the previously great willingness to help threatened to tip over. Schweinsburg, together with other district administrators from Thuringia, wrote a fire letter to the state government. “Our capacities are exhausted, we have our backs to the wall,” it said. The accommodation of the refugees in school gyms is “viewed increasingly critically by the population or no longer accepted”. The answer came from Erfurt that the problem was known, but that there was no short-term solution. One must therefore “remain with the proven system”.