In the "Demands on Politics and Policy-Makers" podium discussion, refugees Firas Alshater and Fatuma Musa called for more housing and quicker asylum procedures in Germany. They directed these demands at Florian Pronold (SPD), Parliamentary State Secretary of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety with the responsibility for construction and urban development, who participated in the talk as representative of the German government.
There is a major lack of housing and asylum proceedings take far too long – in Fatuma Musa's point of view, those are the most pressing problems concerning refugee policy. The asylum procedures slow down the integration of refugees, in her opinion. Added to this comes the lack of proper housing, which makes it hard for refugees to move out of the refugee homes. YouTuber Firas Alshater, aka Zukar, also reported on having massive problems finding an apartment: He sent over 400 emails – but didn't get a single answer. "The real estate portal already thought I was a spammer" he remembered.
150,000 apartments short, every year
These are problems that sound very familiar to State Secretary Florian Pronold. Politics is attempting to accelerate the asylum procedures as best it can, he answers that they are trying to qualify more decision-makers at the Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge - BAMF). The lack of housing represents a far more pressing problem. "Even before the refugee crisis set in, the state should have been building 250,000 apartments per year to offset the housing shortage in the metropolitan regions" said Pronold. Today, the estimates look more akin to about 400,000 apartments that should be being built. Pronold stressed: The government has allocated funds of up to one billion Euros, annually, for the construction of social housing. But the measures had not yet taken effect. "I would be lying if I claimed that the problems in the housing market were going to be solved in two years' time" Pronold soberly concluded.
Integrate with trees and horses?
Fatuma Musa and Firas Alshater also criticised the fact that many refugees are housed in remote regions around the country. Musa was first housed in a small village in the state of Brandenburg. The nearest city was far away and there was no connection to public transportation, no internet and her only neighbours were "trees and horses". This made integration difficult because, as Musa put it: "Am I supposed to integrate with trees and horses, or with people?"
Pronold was also in agreement on this point. But he held on to the strategy of dividing up the locating of refugees between urban and rural areas: Refugees can also be integrated into small towns and villages – provided there are motivated mayors and helpers. Musa countered that not all people are open to refugees. Musa offered three categories that she has identified: "People who welcome refugees. Then those who are sceptical of them. And thirdly, people who reject refugees." Florian Pronold responded that he encounters all three of those interest groups in politics. "That's why we always make three steps forward and two steps back when dealing with refugee policy" he said. Pornold, therefore, asked for understanding on their part and, in closing, encouraged Musa and Alshater not to give up and keep fighting for integration.
Photo credit: re:publica/Gregor Fischer (CC BY 2.0)