A view of Tegel Airport during its original function days

Berlin will create a tent city to house Ukraine refugees

Berlin will create a tent city to house Ukraine refugees

The first wave fled the war, the new wave could be considered energy refugees

Berlin’s former airport, Tegel, looks set to become a refugee shelter (for 3,600 people), even though, initially, that was not the plan. Until now, the historic airport has served mainly as a registration and redirection centre for asylum seekers flooding into Germany from Ukraine after the start of the Russian invasion of their country.

And although the Russian army had been slowly pushed back in recent weeks, it has managed to attack vital infrastructure in Ukrainian cities from a distance causing disruption to daily lives and worsening the outlook for civilians during the winter. Faced with electricity and water shortages, and falling temperatures, many people will probably choose to head to Europe in order to better their chances of survival.

While two former terminals at Tegel Airport were already opened for Ukrainian refugees in the spring, Berlin's state government is now racing to outfit two big tents on the tarmac with heaters for the winter. It has also opened a third terminal for the registration of further arrivals and put up 900 new beds, officials said on Wednesday, 9 November.

From short-term to a longer-term need for solutions

Germany has already taken in 1 million refugees from Ukraine since Russia attacked the Eastern European country almost nine months ago. This time around, Germany was perhaps better prepared to face the challenge after the first migrant crisis of 2015, however, now the pressure on resources and institutions is even greater.

The asylum seekers were distributed across the country into accommodation centres, however, the capacity for this is rapidly running out. Berlin alone has taken nearly 10% of the arrivals and is thus poised to break the 100,000 refugees mark before the end of the year.

The situation is tense, and shelters are full. Katja Kipping, the Berlin State senator for social issues, therefore, wants to have tent cities built by the end of the month. This announcement caused a stir across Germany. 

It is expected that the many refugees will become much more visible in Berlin in the future. It will feel more like a state of emergency than before.

However, Kipping rejects any question about the limits of receptiveness: “We have to create the space. Every shelter we give is a condemnation of Putin's war," says the left-wing politician, as quoted by Tagesspiegel.

The federal government tried to allay local communities' concerns last week, saying it is willing to provide 4.25 billion euros for this and next year to help take care of refugees and migrants. But even with these funds, new housing units cannot be built as quickly as people keep arriving, city officials say.

This naturally brings up the question of emergency temporary accommodation, more reminiscent of the tent cities that have become the symbol of refugee accommodation in places, such as the Middle East.

And speaking of Tegel Airport specifically, the idea was to renovate it and transform it into a tech park and a sustainable living district, with construction starting next year. Thus, where the tent cities will spring up remains to be decided.



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