cities&refugees_D13In Berlin, as in other German cities, the issue of refugees is a controversial one. Where should all the newcomers be housed? In large, centralised accommodation, where hundreds of asylum seekers from different countries live together, separated from the general population? Or in decentralised private homes, where refugees can live amidst the locals?

In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis will be on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.

This week we’re looking at Berlin and the housing of refugees. The German capital has become a symbol of the migrant crisis. At its height, up to 10,000 people reached Germany every day. Nearly all of them had to be taken care of and housed, and that process has not always been smooth. In general, it meant central accommodation in large refugee shelters being provided in order to quickly create a lot of space for people.

Curious to know more about refugees and housing in Berlin? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).


In Berlin, refugee shelters are often in the news: too many people crammed into too small a space, with bad food, and dirty toilets. Violence is common. The police often have to intervene, and politicians regularly demand a tough response. The blame for this often seems to fall on the refugees themselves. But could it be that the accommodation is the problem?

Experts have long demanded a different form of housing; for example, in decentralised, private housing in which the asylum seekers do not live separate from the population. Or mixing with other Berliners in housing projects and shared apartments. Supporters argue that this approach would mean asylum seekers were less marginalised, with easier access to culture and society. Integration would therefore also be easier.

We had a comment from James, who agrees with this approach. For him, decentralised accommodation leads to a better understanding of the host culture and, ultimately, to smoother integration. We wanted to know what the politicians in Berlin think, and so we approached Michael Müller, the Governing Mayor of Berlin. What would he say?

mullerOur experience in Berlin, which is shared by other German states, suggests that we need to avoid segregation as soon and as thoroughly as possible. That is why we try to integrate the children into the normal school cycle (where they attend what are called “welcome classes” at the beginning) and, at the same time, we offer language and integration courses to the parents.

For young people and especially young adults it is important to provide multiple activities. Along with school and training courses, we also have to engage them in sports and other creative pastimes. They have to have the opportunity to be part of groups, learn team spirit, and find out what they’re good at.

These activities also provide for better knowledge of other people and of the traditions and cultures of our society. Sports are an ideal vehicle for getting people from different backgrounds and cultures together even if they cannot communicate – at least at the beginning – in the same language.

And of course the most important way to achieve integration is by integrating people into the labour market. So right from the beginning, the local authorities, the social partners, and NGOs worked together to come up with ways to enable the refugees to become part of our society by becoming part of the labour force. This is made possible thanks to the joint effort of all the partners involved, first via the assessment of the capabilities and language and technical skills of the individual refugees, then by finding the right training programs and by slowly integrating people via internships or practical training units into the work process. Thousands of volunteers especially in small and medium-sized companies, in big enterprises, but also in technical schools are helping with this process and making it possible.

For another perspective, we also spoke to Andreas Germershausen, Commissioner of the Berlin Senate for Integration and Migration. Does he agree with James?

GermershausenYes, I would agree […]. We see that wherever there is no contact with asylum seekers, the opposition to asylum seekers is stronger than where people already have personal contact. On the other hand […] with the large number of refugees in 2015, we had to organise large refugee settlements.

Not everybody agrees, however. Darius thinks that it’s more important to teach refugees the German language than worrying about where they are housed. For him, accommodation is a secondary issue.

To get a response, we spoke to Dr. Klaus Lederer, the Mayor of Berlin and Senator for Culture and Europe. What would he say to Darius?

Does housing asylum seekers apart from locals increase tensions? Rather than housing asylum seekers in large refugee shelters, would it be better to house them alongside the local population? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Franz Ferdinand Photography
The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

79 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

    • Antonios Forlidas

      Every European country which involved militarily in destroying the countries where the refugees come from , should take over the most and take care of them.

    • Zamb On

      France and UK, then. But it seems like we have to bear them all in Italy….

    • Zamb On

      (Anyway, at the moment the most of them come from Nigeria and Ghana. Who destroyed them, and when?)

    • Joanna Smith

      Although I do not think that it is a matter of guilt and reparations, I’d like to point out that Nigeria and Ghana were heavily affected by colonialism and exploitation of their natural resources and their populations that continues to significantly undermine the quality of life. Not to mention that Nigeria and Ghana are not where most asylum seekers come from – that would be Syria and Afghanistan.

    • Ioanna

      I see the point everyone is trying to make but I think all these causes come together and I would not say that Europe as a whole is innocent in the cases of Nigeria, Ghana, Syria, Afghanistan, and everywhere refugees come from that the west has been involved with in various ways.

    • Zamb On

      So we have to take care of every self-destroying people of the world…. why don’t we save all the poor Huiguri or Tibetans from China’s abuses, then?
      Someone sooner or later has to tell us the Truth about this sudden mass migration.

    • Jeanne Griffin

      It isn’t the fault of the European people that these migrants come from.over-populated shiteholes where men cannot keep their dicks inside their trousers. We have to pay for their fucking

  1. Zamb On

    Are you suggesting to put them in our private houses? I’m waiting for you to introduce the “bed sharing” to make us socialize! :D

    • Paolo Ortenzi

      I’ll never do it. Never ever. I broke my back to have my home built, even with my hands. I decide who I want to have in MY COUNTRY and in MY HOUSE. Nobody else.

    • Zamb On

      Carmelita Caruana please be aware of the difference between “voluntary” and “mandatory”. We all use to practice charity voluntarily, but I’m tired to be forced by law to make it.

    • Ioanna

      @Paolo: So when you’ve broken your back to build your home and it’s destroyed, would you not be grateful if somebody else who has broken their back to build their home would take you in? It’s not about somebody coming in and taking your hard-earned rewards from you, it’s about helping those who have nothing.

  2. Jeanne Griffin

    Anyone who suggests we take in these parasites should first stick them inside the beds of their wives snd mothers.

  3. Antonios Forlidas

    Did we Europeans forget that we are the ones who we are destroying the countries where the refugees come from?

    • Carmelita Caruana

      Elected actually. He quotes unpublished figures. I don’t know where he dreamed up Tunisians and Moroccans, not what we see in Italy that gets the bulk of migrants in the human traffickers leaky boats from Libya. While giving refugees protection and shelter is an international law obligation, economic migration is not a crime, and it has always existed. Seeking a better life for your self and for your children is a natural human instinct, especially if you often cannot manage to put any food on the table at all.

    • Fernando Nabais

      The ones who are destroying their countries are themselves. Did you destroy any country?

    • Antonios Forlidas

      Fernando Nabais Accidentally, I served in Afghanistan with other Europeans from 28 countries with ISAF. Among them my good friends from Portugal. What do you think we were doing in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria ? Bombing with cookies?

    • Edita Buržinskaitė

      There’s economic migration when the migrant in question actually intends to find a job and integrate into the host society… and then there’s welfare shopping and expecting to be provided a nice comfortable life pretending to be a refugee.

    • Antonios Forlidas

      Edita Buržinskaitė The uncontrollable refugees and migrants influx , started when the stupid americans followed by the stupid europeans, intervened militarily destroyed countries and destabilized the whole region, So, let΄ς not complain for refugees.

  4. Antonios Forlidas

    Ivan Burrows Frans Timmerman is ignorant: Did he forget that the Royal Nederlands Airforce exterminated Iraq; Afghanistan; Libya etc and destabilized the region?

  5. Joao Dos-Santos Povoa

    Asylum of wars caused by international bankers warmongers that stealing other people’s natural resources for themselves.

  6. Μπάμπης Δάτσιος

    Οι κυβερνήσεις των ισχυρών κρατών είναι πλέγμα φασιστών.
    Συζητούν για την διαχείριση των προσφύγων .
    Το πρώτο που πρέπει να γίνει είναι να σταματήσουν οι πόλεμοι.

  7. Μπάμπης Δάτσιος

    Οι κυβερνήσεις των ισχυρών κρατών είναι πλέγμα φασιστών.
    Συζητούν για την διαχείριση των προσφύγων .
    Το πρώτο που πρέπει να γίνει είναι να σταματήσουν οι πόλεμοι.

  8. Enric Mestres Girbal

    In every country there are villages and land extensions minimum populated. Why not send them there instead of to the cities?

    • Carmelita Caruana

      Oh that’s a great way to help them adapt and fit in!

    • Carmelita Caruana

      Of course not, tourists have a home, a life to go back to.

    • Enric Mestres Girbal

      They should come into Europe after an strict control, women, children and old people…young men should fight for their country, their faith and their ideas.

  9. Ioanna

    Of course it makes sense that refugees, when they first arrive, are placed into communal, purpose-built housing, simply as a way of finding a place for them to stay in the first few days or weeks after arrival and admission. However, once they have arrived, it is important that they do integrate with the local population and that they have many opportunities to interact with them. Housing refugees (and, as an extension, asylum seekers) apart from local populations makes them seem like a foreign, ‘other’ entity that does not belong and that is not welcome. Propagating the idea that foreigners are ‘others’ who ‘do not belong’ is not only unpleasant, but dangerous because it creates two separate groups that will not integrate as easily.

  10. Marco Boiocchi

    Do You belive , are migrants from wars? ??
    Are You dreamers? ? Hello! !!! Wake up!!
    90% are all men .where are women and children? ?? To fight the War for their men? ?

  11. William McAlpine

    My local shop owner was from Afghanistan. He had scars from bullet holes. A friend of mine from University was from Kosovo. Her story isn’t truly harrowing. Meeting these people and hearing their stories about their lives pushed a reality into my face that I never would have imagined before. When people cry “KICK EM OUT!!!” I always remember that girl from Kosovo and that man and his scars.

    • Tony Muñiz

      An anecdote, just like many. Which doesn’t relate to everyone. US took in refugees, many of them. They turned in to bloody street gangs called ms18, 13 etc. Bloody murderers.

    • Fernando Nabais

      Kosovo is already in peace so the girl can now go back home. Refugee is someone taking refuge during a conflit.

    • William McAlpine

      Did “they” all join street gangs? See, you quote a faceless mass that you have no first hand experience of. And there are many types of refugee. It doesn’t need to be war. Also, this is her home now.

  12. Fernando Nabais

    Here in Portugal a woman has just killed herself because the bank was going to take her home and she had nowhere to go. Meanwhile false asylum seekers are given brand new appartments and benefits so they can leave without working. Guess what… not good enough for them, they fled from here to Germany.. And there are still idiots around claiming this is people desperate for help.

    • Ioanna

      I am assuming that by ‘false asylum seeker’ you mean somebody who has migrated to Europe not because they were in danger but because they wanted a better life for themselves (and their family), but came and applied for asylum anyway.
      Firstly, the benefits received by asylum seekers tend to be small – if somebody has come to Europe to make money, they are much more likely to try to find actual work than sit around (especially knowing that asylum seeker status does not last forever).
      Secondly, even if there are a few people who do this, removing benefits and housing from all asylum applicants automatically removes them from people who are fleeing dangerous circumstances such as war, genocide, ethnic/religious persecution, etc. and who will receive refugee status.
      This would be unacceptable.

  13. Fátima Pio

    You are incresing violence and tension making that kind of gettos. Nobody in there asked for that war, so be inclusive teach people your way of living treat them as equal (as they are, and tell me after loosing everything would you like to live that way?) they deserve dignity, learn the language, work if ipossible. Be inclusive, respect the others and give them hope. They don’t have home remember that, not even the stars at night are the same that they are used to.

  14. Ferre Jaime

    claro que aumenta as tensoes, os invasores vem com prespectivas de fazer o que quiserem as mulheres e criancas, com comida e hotel de graca, o que pensam que acontecera se os puserem em dormitorios, com disciplina militar?! COITADINHOS!

  15. Antonios Forlidas

    Edita Buržinskaitė The uncontrollable refugees and migrants influx , started when the stupid americans followed by the stupid europeans, intervened militarily destroyed countries and destabilized the whole region, So, let΄ς not complain for refugees.

  16. Paolo Ortenzi

    the more I read pro-Ue people comments the more I see that European Unity is poisonous: It’s Soviet Union is western sauce. The earlier EU goes away, the better it is.

  17. Paweł Kunio

    If hosting them in encosed asylum seeker-wannabe housing antagonizes them then dont any asylum seeker wannabes from that country/region. Problem solved.

  18. Meg Brads

    If a country should only take in the number of refugees that can be housed with citizens who have opened up their homes voluntarily there would be more gratitude on the part of those refugees and better integration because the host would show the refugees how, where and what is acceptable.

    • Ioanna

      And what would happen to everybody else?

  19. Elizabeth McLaughlin

    Process quickly, disperse thoroughly, teach local language to everyone = integration. Hold in limbo, keep in ghetto, isolate women and children = trouble.

  20. Viorika Motoi

    Do You belive , are migrants from wars? ??
    Are You dreamers? ? Hello! !!! Wake up!!
    90% are all men .where are women and children? ?? To fight the War for their men? ?

  21. Paul X

    By definition an Asylum seeker has not yet been granted permission to stay in the country so it is not logical or necessary for that country use up some of its overstretched resources in trying to integrate people who may well have their application rejected

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