Germany fears Gaza war will worsen 'strained' asylum situation

Authorities say they are running out of accommodation for tens of thousands of Syrians, Turks and Afghans seeking refuge

Local authorities say refugee accommodation in Germany is overstretched because of the number of asylum seekers. Getty Images
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German authorities have warned that the Israel-Gaza war will add to an increasingly stretched asylum system.

Officials are having to explore the opening of gym complexes as temporary shelters for the second time in a decade.

City leaders say they have little to no accommodation left to offer migrants after more than 300,000 people sought asylum in Germany last year, the highest level since 2016 when the figure exceeded 600,000.

People from Syria accounted for more than 95,000 claims in 2023. About 55,000 people sought asylum from Turkey, 48,000 from Afghanistan and thousands of others from Iran and Iraq.

The asylum figures do not include the more than one million Ukrainians who have taken refuge in Germany since Russia invaded in 2022, who are in a separate category under EU migration law.

In a document setting out demands to Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government, an association of towns and municipalities expressed concern that numbers could rise again in 2024.

“In addition to the already high number of refugees, the current developments in the Middle East and other crisis and conflict zones mean we can expect the numbers to continue to rise worldwide,” it said.

“On top of that, there is a danger that people’s acceptance and positive stance towards accepting and integrating refugees and people with a migrant background will be lost.”

A few dozen Palestinians have claimed asylum in Germany so far, with most routes out of Gaza blocked. Israel has been heavily criticised for suggesting people should be displaced from the territory.

Concern over migration has helped fuel a bounce in the polls for the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is hopeful of victory in three heartland states later this year.

The report said the situation in German schools and nurseries was “highly strained” because of the number of extra children. Housing can only be found with the “greatest difficulty”, if at all.

Courses for migrants such as German language classes are also overstretched, meaning it is harder for them to join the labour market, and “successful integration in such circumstances is hardly possible any more”, it said. Ministers have introduced emergency border checks in an attempt to stem the numbers.

Andre Berghegger, the head of the association and a conservative MP, said accommodation was in shorter supply than during the migration crisis after conflicts in Iraq and Syria in 2015.

He said local authorities were having to put people up in temporary accommodation such as hotels and sports halls, which may become permanent due to a lack of alternatives.

“The numbers must be limited so that we have room to breathe again, to be able to look after people who come here in an orderly and sensible way. Then it will be possible to maintain or increase public acceptance again.”

Local authorities want to increase deportations by having more countries declared safe. Ministers previously rejected calls to add Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco to a list of destinations where people can be returned home.

Their demands also include more funding, a new digital ID for asylum seekers and better protection of the EU’s borders so that fewer people arrive in Germany.

The German government, under pressure from regional leaders last year, agreed to explore the idea of handling asylum claims in third countries, although Mr Scholz’s team has spoken of “practical problems” and “high legal hurdles”.

Updated: January 03, 2024, 2:41 PM