Seehofer unhappy with Berlin refugee plan

Berlin and the German interior minister are feuding over a unilateral plan to take 300 refugees from camps on Greek islands.

The signs say Germany has plenty of room and that you shouldn't be a 'Horst'. Nobody likes Horsts.
The signs say Germany has plenty of room and that you shouldn't be a 'Horst'. Nobody likes Horsts.Britta Pedersen/dpa

Berlin-German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is rejecting Berlin's request to take in 300 people on its own initiative, saying states lack the authority. Seehofer's apparent decision to refuse the initiative personally, without a submitting it to a vote in the federal cabinet, is now causing outrage in Berlin.

Approval of the request was "the sole responsibility" of the interior ministry, according to a response by the interior ministry (BMI) to an inquiry by Berlin parliamentarian Petra Pau (Linke) reported by the Tagesspiegel on Wednesday. "Coordination of the position of the BMI with other ministries, as set out in the letter from Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer dated 8 July 2020, did therefore not take place.”

The Berlin state government does not want to "simply shrug its shoulders and accept the no vote," said Berlin’s Interior Minister Andreas Geisel (SPD). Especially as it does not offer any further prospects. Geisel supports the proposal from North Rhine-Westphalia to convene a conference between the states and the federal government soon to discuss the issue of refugees.

Last week, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet (CDU), and the state’s integration minister, Joachim Stamp (FDP), visited the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos – which has for years stood as a symbol of Europe’s refugee policy failures.

Worse conditions than camps elsewhere

The politicians were barred from entering parts of the camp by a group of refugees who were protesting conditions at the camp. Laschet and Stamp broke off their visit for security reasons.

Afterwards, Stamp told Deutschlandfunk radio that it made him think that "conditions in a facility for which the European Union is responsible are partially worse for people than those in camps in Iraq or Jordan". He called for a short-term conference between the federal and state governments to discuss the admission of further refugees from the overcrowded camps on the Greek islands.

For Berlin Interior Minister Andreas Geisel, the case is clear: "If we are serious about our European values of freedom, solidarity and humanity, the people in the Greek camps must be helped as quickly as possible. The Berlin government has always said that it has the organisational capacity and necessary human resources to receive 300 people. And we stand by it.”

But Seehofer is sticking to his no for now. Die Linke's Pau criticised the CSU politician's stance in the Tagesspiegel, claiming the matter was not "only about the individual opinion of the responsible minister".

"The federal government as a whole should explain why it is snubbing federal states that are willing to accept new refugees, instead of praising and supporting them for their commitment," she wrote.

Currently, Berlin is working to accommodate a smaller number of refugees from Greece. Through the end of August, 142 people will arrive in the city as part of a group of 928 new refugees the federal government has agreed to take.

The Tempelhof Law

According to the social affairs administration, the new arrivals will housed in the “Tempohomes” on Tempelhofer Feld. The container housing units have been rotting away since 2019, when the last refugees moved out of them.

The container village has 900 units and cost €17m, but was only used for two years. Making them inhabitable again will require maintenance, especially on the plumbing and toilets.

Questions remains as to whether the container village complies with Berlin’s “Tempelhof Law”, which states that temporary refugee housing like the Tempohomes could only remain there until 31 December 2019.

In a response to a query from Berliner Zeitung, the city’s social affairs department wrote that the current toleration of the situation did not equate “a fundamental annulment of the Tempelhof Law.”

More English articles at Berliner Zeitung in English.