Germany has received at least 175,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine, and has announced solidarity measures to support Moldova. Around 15,000 people are arriving daily in Berlin, where the mayor is calling for support from other German states. Meanwhile, reports of non-Ukrainian asylum seekers being side-lined have worried activists. A European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling has criticised the practice of detaining asylum seekers in correctional facilities in non-emergency situations.

Some 160,000 Ukrainian refugees had registered in Germany as of 17 March. The actual number, likely much higher, cannot accurately be stated given the lack of controls along the borders with Poland and the Czech Republic. The arrivals have been met with an outpouring of public solidarity which has encompassed welcome committees at train stations and activist-organised bus services to bring people from the Polish border to Germany. A partnership between the interior ministry, non-profit AG and the home rental company Airbnb has generated more than 300,000 offers of private homes to house the new arrivals. “Their hearts are there, the willingness to help is there and the solidarity is there,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said of the countless initiatives and the generosity of ordinary citizens.

On 12 March, foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany will take in 2,500 refugees who have fled to Moldova from Ukraine. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 355,000 people have so far crossed the border to Moldova. While only roughly 100,000 have chosen to stay, this remains an immense number for the tiny poor state. People will be evacuated to Germany via both airlifts and buses.

The first stop many arriving in Germany via train or bus is Berlin. At least 15,000 refugees have been arriving daily in the city – a number likely underestimated given many arrivals do not register and instead go directly to meet friends and family. Berlin’s mayor, Franziska Giffey, has warned that the city-state is nearing the limits of its capacity to accommodate refugees. On 12 March, 945 people were sleeping in a repurposed exhibition centre and 2,600 people spent the night at the main station. According to Giffey, this shows the city is “at the limits of [its] capacities”. Berlin authorities have called for  other German states share responsibility for incoming refugees. While all of the country’s 16 federal states have signalled their willingness to take people in, the distribution of refugees remains uneven as relocation measures within the country are voluntary. The federal government has committed to taking over the distribution of 10,000 food portions a day at Berlin’s central station. An emergency accommodation centre with a capacity of 3,000 was scheduled to open this week at the site of the former Tegel airport.

Activists have accused Germany of double standards in refugee reception after it was revealed that asylum seekers currently accommodated in a Bundeswehr centre will be moved along to make room for up to a thousand Ukrainians. According to the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung: “asylum seekers from Yemen and Afghanistan have to move to other accommodations in Upper Bavaria. The city and Caritas complain that the previous residents have to quit language courses and leave schools”. In February, two-thirds of the people living in the barracks – which are intended to accommodate Ukrainians were from Yemen or Afghanistan.

In an important judgement, the ECJ has ruled on the German practice of detaining asylum seekers awaiting deportation together with criminals. ECRE member organisation Pro Asyl welcomed the decision, which emphasised that minimum standards in pre-deportation detention must be upheld. Further, though detention alongside prisoners may be acceptable in narrow, emergency circumstances, the German state is not free to declare emergencies in an arbitrary manner to justify criminal detention.  Peter von Auer, legal policy officer at Pro Asyl, commented: “Prisons like those in the Bavarian Hof or in Glückstadt in Schleswig-Holstein are surrounded by meter-high walls reinforced with barbed wire and thus clearly have the character of a prison”. The ECJ has made it clear that detainees awaiting deportation who have not been found guilty of crimes but are only obliged to leave the country, should not be locked up in such facilities. According to the lawyer Peter Fahlbusch – who represented the applicant in the ECJ case – more than half of the 2,000 people he has represented have been unjustly detained. “This is a real scandal that should make us all think,” said Fahlbusch.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.