From Berlin it is said again and again: We have space. Is that so?
We will have space when the accommodation on Columbiadamm in Tempelhof opens. We have been working on this for many months. Then we could use the Tempohomes again, which are there and which were only in use for almost two years. Ideally, that would be up to 800 places. Otherwise we currently have around 1000 free places in Berlin. That is not a lot with just under 20,000 residents.
So there would not only be space for the 300 refugees from Greece that Berlin wants to accept through the state admission program, but also for 300 more from Bosnia-Herzegovina, as is being demanded?
After the current situation and the pandemic-related lower number of refugees, there would still be room. However, we do not know how this will develop after the end of the pandemic, whether there will be post-migration to Berlin. Overall, we have a shortage of accommodation. Because the MUF
(Modular accommodation for refugees, editor’s note)that were planned by the Senate have not been established in all districts.
To what extent undersupply?
A total of 38,000 MUF places should be set up in the districts. Of these, 7,000 are still missing. The plan was for each district to build two locations with 500 spaces each. That didn’t happen. There were also districts that say we have no space. Believe it or not.
Half of the residents in the refugee shelters, i.e. around 10,000 people, are actually homeless, for whose accommodation the districts are responsible. Why doesn’t this happen?
It is that our accommodations are of a better standard than most of the accommodations that use the boroughs. The districts often accommodate homeless people in accommodations that do not have quality management like our accommodations. They also put up in hostels where there is no social work or psychological care. Quite simply, there is a lack of district accommodation.
Is that why you are now also accommodating homeless people who have not fled?
Next week a single mother and her three children will move from an accommodation for homeless people to a refugee accommodation that is not very busy. This is a model project that we will analyze for future offers.
People sometimes stay in the accommodations for a long time. What would have to happen for that to change?
We simply need more apartments. The fact that people in Berlin live in accommodation for a very long time, even when they are no longer in the asylum procedure, is due to the housing shortage in Berlin.
Is there a need for a quota for state-owned housing companies?
Given the scarcity, the fact that we accommodated 2,000 people in apartments last year is a good achievement. But far from satisfying given the crowd looking for an apartment. I think having more housing is better than arguing about how the shortage is distributed.
Couldn’t a quota help anyway?
Most importantly, new homes are being built. People with a migration background are at a disadvantage when looking for accommodation, which is why easing the situation on the market is what would help our clients best.
In the pandemic, there are repeated calls to dissolve collective accommodation because you cannot keep your distance there and you cannot isolate yourself. Is this realistic?
We have taken a lot of measures. We have offered residents of accommodations with shared kitchens and bathrooms that they can temporarily move into vacant Tempohomes with their own bathroom and kitchen. That didn’t have a big impact. We have put a lot into hygiene measures and education. In the event of infections, we immediately brought those affected to parts of the accommodation where they have their own kitchen and sanitary unit, or brought them to our quarantine location.
What about accommodation in vacant hotels?
The advantage of accommodation over a hostel or hotel is that we have common rooms and kitchens. Often there is no such thing in hostels. How should the people look after themselves there? Above all, there is support from social workers and psychologists in LAF accommodation; a volunteer structure, for example help with homework for children. All of that would fall away. Accommodation in hotels sounds good at first, but it has major disadvantages. However, it will always have to be checked whether it is the better way in a changed situation.
How’s homeschooling going?
When it comes to e-learning, Berlin is not so well positioned anyway, which is twice as difficult for refugee children. Originally we only had WiFi access in common rooms. The pandemic taught us that this is not enough. We want to create WLAN access in all rooms. We have managed that 61 of our 78 accommodations, that is 78 percent, are now fully equipped with WiFi. This means that digital learning at home is also possible for the refugee children.
However, not every refugee child has a digital device.
It was good that the Senate Department for Education made devices available to schoolchildren. This has also achieved some refugee families. But the number of end devices is still too small.
How is the mood in the accommodations at the moment?
For the most part, I perceive our residents to be very sensible. It is clear that this is sometimes a psychological burden.
How often are residents and employees tested?
All those arriving at the arrival center are tested twice. Otherwise, employees and residents have the opportunity to be tested if there is a reason. We don’t test everyone on suspicion.
Subject vaccination: is there a vaccination strategy for refugee accommodation?
I have worked to ensure that we prefer the residents of the accommodation, as well as the employees, even further than was previously planned. I think it makes sense to vaccinate the whole facility at the same time.
The LAF was founded almost five years ago. What has improved since then and what still needs to be improved?
We have a significantly increased quality of our accommodation, nobody lives in emergency shelters anymore, nobody lives in gyms anymore. The accommodations we are building now are of a significantly higher standard. And we want to further improve the quality, towards more living-like forms and thus more independence.