District Administrator, you are a member of the Greens. In a letter to Chancellor Scholz, you warn that the integration of refugees is becoming “a product of chance” under the current conditions. They call for “a noticeably stronger control and limitation”. Are you in line with your party?
I stand behind my federal government and the value-oriented foreign policy of the Green Foreign Minister. But I still see it as my job not to just say: Folks, the refugee policy works like this. We would be lying to ourselves. In 2022 we took in more refugees than during the great crisis years of 2015, 2016 and 2017. We can no longer accommodate or care for this large number of refugees.
What is the situation in your district right now?
The overload is visible in all areas of refugee aid. We took in over 1,500 refugees from Ukraine and just as many from other countries. I lack enough living space for decentralized accommodation. This is due to the high rate at which new refugees are arriving, but also because there are hardly any vacant houses, even in a district like ours on the edge of the Frankfurt/Rhine-Main metropolitan region. And if the refugees eventually have a residence permit and can and must move out of the refugee accommodation, it will be very difficult for them to find an apartment on the regular housing market. But accommodation is just one issue.
Which ones are there?
The situation in kindergartens and schools is extremely tense. Since 2015, the employees there have been doing great things in admission and care. And there are also outstanding examples of successful integration in our district: Syrian or Afghan families who now have German citizenship and who work. However, I also have children in our kindergartens and schools, some of whom were even born in Germany, but do not speak German. There are mothers who don’t speak German. And then last year there was another historical tour de force with the many Ukrainian children – we were all happy to take them in, please don’t get me wrong.
Precisely because integration is so important to me, it is also my responsibility to point out when things are not running optimally across the board. There are people who have experienced extremely stressful situations, both in their home country and while fleeing. And who will take care of them then? I don’t have anyone anymore We get 3.5 jobs funded for integration and counseling work with refugees – for 3000 refugees. That’s why it can’t be about me, as district administrator, opening another emergency shelter in some commercial building.
What help do you expect from the federal government?
The federal government must give the municipalities room to breathe – with fewer refugees and more resources. And we finally want a professional exchange with the municipal umbrella organizations. Delegating refugee aid to us no longer works.
There have already been summit meetings with the Federal Minister of the Interior – and most recently the promise that the federal government would provide more real estate.
I don’t have any federal real estate in my county myself, but colleagues report that it’s not working particularly well yet. And more living space alone is not enough. The number of refugees must be reduced.
So you’re demanding a stricter border regime and more deportations?
Migration is a topic that is associated with great responsibility, but which also requires the will to differentiate. I’m not saying: just close the border and after me the deluge. But the federal government must recognize that refugee aid as it is currently being carried out does not meet humanitarian requirements.
What do you mean?
At the moment we are tempting people to take extremely dangerous escape routes. And those who did not die or were not enslaved receive a residence status in Germany as a bonus. That’s not humane. And we don’t have to be surprised when the accusation is raised that only young men are coming. Sorry, what family is so daft as to embark on this dangerous journey in Syria or Afghanistan?
What do you suggest instead?
We need an ambitious Africa policy, an ambitious Mediterranean strategy, closer cooperation with the UNHCR to offer people in crisis regions locally or in neighboring countries perspectives.
Efforts like this have been going on for years. Even if they were intensified, there should not be a quick remedy for the municipalities.
We will certainly not achieve quick successes that way. But it must also be clear to everyone that things cannot go on as before. We cannot take in more refugees every year. In 2021 there were 190,000 asylum applications, in 2022 around 240,000. We will not succeed.
Have you actually already received a reaction to your demands from Berlin?
I haven’t heard anything from the chancellor’s office yet. But I also sent the letter to my Bavarian Greens leadership and to the Greens federal executive and the parliamentary group leadership in Berlin. Both of them sought dialogue with me and also understood what our problems on the ground are.