BERLIN (AP) – The German capital is expanding a temporary refugee shelter at a former airport to accommodate 3,600 Ukrainians as it struggles to accommodate more civilians fleeing Russian attacks on vital infrastructure ahead of the coming cold winter months.
While the two former terminals at Tegel Airport were already open to Ukrainian refugees in the spring, Berlin’s state government is now racing to equip two large tents on the runway with heaters for the winter. It also opened a third terminal to register onward arrivals and set up 900 new beds, officials said Wednesday.
“With Russian President Putin targeting the country’s heating and water infrastructure and with temperatures set to drop below freezing soon, the number of refugees could skyrocket at any time,” said Katja Kipping, Berlin’s government senator for social affairs, as toured the newly opened check-in facilities at Terminal C.
“We have to be ready,” Kipping said, adding that most regular shelters for refugees and asylum seekers in Berlin and elsewhere in the country are already overcrowded, and finding new space for more people seeking protection in Germany must become a top priority.
Germany has taken in one million refugees from Ukraine since Russia invaded the Eastern European country nearly nine months ago. In addition, more asylum seekers than in previous years are coming here from countries such as Syria, Moldova or Afghanistan. Elsewhere in Europe, the number of people applying for international protection has also hit highs not seen since more than a million people sought refuge on the continent seven years ago.
Last week, the head of Germany’s association of cities warned that many cities across the country are no longer able to provide decent housing for refugees.
“We will have to start relying on emergency solutions, because the regular housing that would actually be provided for this purpose is not available in either quantity or quality,” Straubing mayor Markus Pannermayr told Bayern 2 radio.
The federal government last week tried to ease the concerns of local communities, saying it was ready to provide 4.25 billion euros ($4.26 billion) this year and next to help care for refugees and migrants. But even with new federal funding, new housing can’t be built as fast as people keep arriving, city officials say.
At Tegel Airport, around 1,500 Ukrainian refugees have currently found a temporary home — mostly mothers with children — as the German capital’s regular refugee shelters with nearly 28,000 beds are full. On Wednesday, some new arrivals sat for long periods in the vast former arrivals hall, drinking warm vegetable soup, while others crouched side by side on old metal seats near the walls charging their phones at multiple outlets.
A family of five with a baby in a stroller and a father who uses a wheelchair queued at the old boarding pass and security control area to check in, while several elderly women huddled in large coats stood outside the gates of the former airline to go through police checks and fingerprints and biometric images are taken.
Berlin has so far received more than 100,000 Ukrainians and while many have found private accommodation with relatives or Germans who have opened their homes to them, around 3,000 of them currently rely on the city for accommodation.
Ukrainians can enter Germany without visas, but migrants from other countries seeking refuge in Germany must apply for asylum in order to enter shelters.
From January to the end of September, 134,908 people applied for asylum in Germany, of which around 10,700 now live in Berlin.
In October alone, 3,454 people applied for asylum in the German capital, a 30 percent increase over September, city officials said.
To ensure that all of them – as well as those expected to come – have a roof over their heads in winter, Berlin wants to create 10,000 additional accommodation spaces by the end of this year.
“We have a Herculean task here,” Kipping said.
Follow all AP stories on global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration and on the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine