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Konrad Werner: Refugees Welcome… to Berlin’s admin hell

The refugee crisis is not really a refugee crisis – it's a local authority crisis. Especially in Berlin, where all the mismanagement and inefficiency and underfunding are being exposed by the fact that there are more people queuing up.

Image for Konrad Werner: Refugees Welcome... to Berlin's admin hell
“Sozialverwaltung weist Vorwürfe zurück” by sebaso is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I don’t want to sound parochial, but the worst refugee crisis since World War II has definitely highlighted how shit it is trying to get angemeldet in Berlin. Refugees welcome – to stand in mud for six months. The chronic underfunding and inefficiency of Berlin’s local authorities (which anyone who’s moved house in Berlin knew about) have now become a national embarrassment for Germany, and an image-feast for the anti-refugee “we’re full” propagandists.

The truth is that the depressing images of the LaGeSo crowds that went round the world (including in the New York Times) are not evidence of a refugee crisis, but a bureaucratic crisis. Berlin is estimated to be getting around 500 new refugees a day – which is a lot, but then again, Munich got 10,000 a day at one point in the summer, and has managed to avoid allowing pregnant women to sleep in mud. In Munich, a new registration centre was set up in the summer capable of processing 400 new arrivals a day, with a 24-hour service. It’s taken Berlin until now to open a second LaGeSo office, even though the number of refugees coming to Berlin has doubled every year since 2011. And they still have such massive personnel shortages that they can only open during office hours.

On Monday, a group of lawyers decided that the conditions outside the LaGeSo registration office (pregnant women collapsing, people taken to hospital with hypothermia, neo-Nazi security guards beating people up and saying “Arbeit macht Frei”) actually constituted a crime, and filed charges against Berlin’s Social Affairs Minister Mario Czaja and LaGeSo boss Franz Allert. By Thursday, Czaja had cut Allert loose – reportedly following pressure from Mayor Michael Müller, who decided he wanted “a new start”.

But the problem is a lot deeper than Allert, as was shown in a recent report where RBB collected anonymous reports from LaGeSo officials: “The unprocessed cases are piled up in yellow mail boxes,” one official said. “And the yellow mail boxes are stored in several rooms. There is no ordering system. That’s why we have the job of the ‘searcher’ – colleagues who are only occupied with finding the right files.”

“We call in 500 refugees or more every day – with appointments at 9am,” another said. “But we’ve known for weeks that we can only process 200 at the most. I keep asking my superiors why we can’t give out realistic appointments. The answer is that it probably has something to do with some directive or other that we have to follow.”

Outside, the conditions are even worse. When the massive influx happened in Munich in the summer, so many cops and doctors were mobilized that the volunteers were reduced to handing out water within a day (the reason why you saw all those people clapping refugees was because they didn’t have anything else to do). In Berlin, if it wasn’t for the unbelievable job that the local volunteers of Moabit Hilft are still doing, there would literally be dead people by now. The Berlin government has failed badly, and needs to get its shit together.