New arrival center for refugees: hangar has had its day

From April 29, 2019, newly arriving refugees will be housed on hospital grounds in Reinickendorf. But the fundamental criticism remains.

In the future, there will no longer be pictures like this from the hangars at the former Tempelhof Airport, which has served as emergency accommodation for refugees up to now Photo: dpa

Refugees who newly arrive in Berlin and want to apply for asylum here will have to report to House 2 on the grounds of the former Karl Bonhoeffer Mental Hospital in Reinickendorf starting next Monday. This was announced by the responsible State Office for Refugee Affairs (LAF) shortly before Easter. The controversial arrival center in a hangar at the former Tempelhof Airport will then finally have had its day.

In the future, refugees will be housed for the first few days in two buildings on the former hospital grounds. The initial medical examination will also take place here. Currently, a new building is still being constructed, which should be ready by the end of the year. Then registration and police checks of refugees will also take place in Reinickendorf. So far, this has been done in the second arrival center, Bundesallee (Wilmersdorf), where the Federal Office for Refugees and Migration (Bamf), which carries out the asylum procedures, is located in addition to the Job Center and the Foreigners Authority. According to an LAF spokeswoman, it has not yet been decided whether there are long-term plans for the Bamf to also move to the new arrival center.

After completion of the registration phase, including the initial medical examination, which takes between 3 and 5 days, according to the LAF, refugees are either distributed to other federal states or referred to a Berlin initial reception center – and from there again to a shared accommodation after a few weeks. The most important difference: In the latter homes, people can cook for themselves – for many a piece of freedom and self-determination.

The hangar opened as an arrival center in the fall of 2016 and has since been sharply criticized because people had to live in the aircraft hangar in "living cubicles" that were open at the top and had no privacy. Social Senator Elke Breitenbach (Left Party) had repeatedly stated that she wanted to close the facility. Since Christmas, new arrivals had already been moved to the Schmidt-Knobelsdorf barracks in Spandau to sleep, with only medical examinations taking place in the hangar.

The maximum occupancy rate in the new arrival center is 500 people. As in the Hangar, the operator is Tamaja Berlin GmbH. So far this year, around 1,700 refugees have entered the asylum process in Berlin, compared with 33,000 nationwide. The three main countries of origin are currently Syria, Nigeria and Iraq.

Commentary by Susanne Memarnia on the new arrival center:

The fundamental criticism remains

The fact that the hangar at the former Tempelhof Airport is now finally passe as an arrival center for refugees is certainly to be welcomed. Since it was opened more than two years ago, refugee initiatives have been pointing out that people cannot be accommodated in a dignified manner in huge aircraft hangars. Although only in exceptional cases has anyone had to sleep there since Christmas, the alternative quarters in the barracks in Spandau were also far from ideal due to the poor condition of the building.

However, the fundamental criticism of arrival centers remains. For one thing: What is the point of moving refugees from one home to the next anyway? First a few days at the arrival center, then a few weeks at the initial reception center (with full board), then to the shared accommodation (with kitchens for self-catering).

Actually, the arrival center, which has only existed since September 2016, would have made the initial reception facilities superfluous. That’s because the law only says that "up to six weeks" asylum seekers have to live "in the reception center responsible for their reception". That means they could move directly to a shelter after just a few days, where they could cook and feel at least a little freer.

Close to the "anchor center

The idea of a center in which all the authorities and organizations responsible for asylum procedures are gathered together should also be questioned. This may be practical, but the suspicion is that it is also about keeping the asylum seekers together and under control – keyword Seehofer’s "anchor centers". The Senate doesn’t really want them, they always say, and arrival centers are not anchor centers because they don’t apply to the entire procedure.

But: More and more asylum procedures actually take only a few days. The interview at the Bamf now often comes just a few days after registration – and sometimes the prompt decision shortly thereafter. Berlin, in particular, is a nationwide pioneer with regard to these "fast-track procedures," which are not meant to be called that. Refugees in these fast-track procedures do not have the time to look for a lawyer, to get sensible advice, or perhaps to obtain certificates confirming that they have been traumatized. Refugee initiatives are therefore calling for asylum procedures to be speeded up again. From an administrative point of view, efficiency may be the highest good, but from a human rights point of view, a fair, thorough and objective procedure is more important.

Let the people arrive first, give them time to collect themselves, get advice and help, "feed" them to the Bamf for the interview after a few weeks, and then give them directly a proper accommodation instead of the initial reception center – this way Berlin could easily prove that it is really against anchor centers and that the arrival center should not be the first step on the way there.

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