Putin's war of aggression How Bonn is getting ready for refugees from Ukraine

Bonn · In NRW, thousands of refugees from Ukraine could be taken in at short notice. Places are scarce in Bonn, but citizens can offer accommodation. The city government has activated the refugee working group, as it did in 2015.

 On Thursday evening, many Bonn citizens, among them Ukrainians, demonstrated at Bonn’s marketplace against Putin's war of aggression.

On Thursday evening, many Bonn citizens, among them Ukrainians, demonstrated at Bonn’s marketplace against Putin's war of aggression.

Foto: Meike Böschemeyer

The city of Bonn and the state of NRW are preparing to take in people fleeing Ukraine. But space is scarce, at least in the federal city. A working group that emerged from the 2015 refugee wave has reformed. Ordinary women and men can also step in to help, since Ukrainians can basically enter Germany without a visa. "We must make our solidarity felt also in practical terms," says Mayor Katja Dörner (Greens). Bonn's member of parliament Jessica Rosenthal (SPD) is also in favour of taking in refugees.

At the moment, no matter who you talk to at a state, district or municipal level, it’s impossible to predict what will happen with regard to the flow of refugees fleeing war in Ukraine. According to Ukrainian authorities, men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country because of the state of emergency that has been imposed. But the UNHCR refugee agency reported Saturday that 160,000 people were fleeing inside the country - with 116,000 additional people having fled to neighbouring countries. By Sunday, the estimate had already risen to 300,000, with people moving mainly to Poland, but also to Moldova and Romania, it said. On Saturday, the first Ukrainians had arrived in Berlin and Brandenburg.

"But no one can say with any authority when and how quickly and how many people will arrive in our country," explained Christoph Söbbeler, press spokesperson for the Arnsberg district government. The authority is responsible for distributing refugees among the municipalities in NRW. The various agencies at the state and federal level are exchanging information closely in this "dynamic situation." In one scenario, the federal and state governments assume that Germany will receive around 400,000 refugees. Ukraine is home to 44 million people.

NRW can take in thousands of people

The state is well prepared. Refugee accommodations in NRW could take in several thousand people at short notice. Currently, the general occupancy rate is around 60 to 75 percent, he said. "One reason is that we have blocked certain capacities because of the Coronavirus situation. That's something that could easily be changed, if necessary, " Söbbeler says.

However, the way capacity is being used varies greatly from place to place. In Bonn, there is just enough space, partly because allocations to Bonn are on hold. The admission rate is 143 percent, which means about 1,500 refugees. The capacity limit was most recently 1560 places in all types of housing.

City of Bonn activates working group

The Office for Social Affairs and Housing is in crisis mode, and the refugee working group, which emerged from the 2015 refugee crisis, has also been formed again so it can provide for the people. The city also hopes that citizens of Bonn will take in refugees in an emergency. Those who can offer housing are asked to email obdach@bonn.de.

"At present, the Office for Social Affairs and Housing is examining all potentially eligible options for housing refugees from Ukraine. These must be created predominantly in addition to the existing stock, since the capacities for housing people with and without a refugee background in Bonn are largely exhausted," says Deputy City Spokesperson Marc Hoffmann.

One thing being examined is whether more space can be made available by redistributing and re-assigning places. "Unfortunately, infection control also continues to play a role." To what extent there will be separate admission procedures via the federal government or the state of NRW is unclear, he said. If the Arnsberg district government distributes the refugees, he said, it can be assumed that Bonn will receive assignments only as a lower priority because of the high admission quota.

Entering without a visa for 90 days

There are currently 1203 Ukrainian immigrants living in Bonn, and 850 of them are citizens of Ukraine. Many of them have friends and relatives in their home country, to whom they can provide shelter without bureaucracy, at least in the short term. Ukraine is not part of the EU, but residents are already allowed to enter Germany without a visa. "They are allowed to stay visa-free for 90 days, provided they have a biometric passport," says Marc Hoffmann.

Instead of having to go through an asylum procedure and apply for a residence permit, the refugees could be granted "temporary protection". The corresponding paragraph was included in the Residency Act as a lesson learned from the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but it has never been applied so far. However, the directive, according to which temporary protection is valid for one year, must be discussed at the EU level.

Dörner wants to take in people

Mayor Katja Dörner nevertheless emphasizes that she wants to give people refuge: "The city of Bonn shows solidarity with the people in Ukraine and strongly condemns the attack in violation of international law and the war for which Putin is responsible. In close coordination with the federal and state governments, we are preparing to provide shelter and protection to people who have to flee Ukraine."

There she agrees with Bonn's SPD member of parliament Jessica Rosenthal, who is knocking at open doors with a request. "Bonn is an open minded city that shows solidarity, and it has always been a safe haven for people on the run. In this dramatic situation, I therefore ask that the city of Bonn expand capacity and accommodation for refugees."

Deputy NRW Minister President Joachim Stamp (FDP) expects that most of the people affected will be taken in in Eastern Europe. "Nevertheless, we will of course help and are also prepared to allow additional reception capacities at short notice." He added that this flexibility had already been shown in taking in particularly vulnerable people from Afghanistan.

Original Article: Nicolas Ottersbach / Translation: Jean Lennox

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