German authorities are groaning over the influx of tens of thousands of refugees
Private volunteer initiatives by German citizens are fighting to take up the slack
With some 10,000 migrants pouring into Munich, Germany, most every day, there are not enough beds for everyone yet.
So after their exhausting flight from homelands laid waste by bombs and drenched in blood, many arrivals have just pulled up a piece of floor and slept right in the train station.
Police in Munich announced on Sunday that the city had hit its capacity to help after 12,200 migrants arrived Saturday. Germany expects up to 800,000 applications for asylum this year, mainly from Syrian refugees.
Officials from German states have groaned to Chancellor Angela Merkel – who generously decided to open the borders over a week ago and let so many destitute in – that they don’t know how to take care of them all, that the proverbial boat is already full.
But thousands of German citizens backing hundreds of private charities to help asylum seekers across the country are trying to pick up the slack and are posting their work online. Some of them have been doing this for years. Others have been popping up to greet recent approaching waves of humanity.
An initiative in the rural community of Tamm in the southwest sums up the civic attitude with the motto: “Our boat is nowhere near full.”
Settle in and integrate, helpful volunteers tell asylum seekers, as they connect them with food, clothes, apartments, German lessons and new acquaintances. And with cookouts and parties to share music, cultural traditions and cuisine.
Here are just a few examples of the aid and the fun German helpers are sharing with asylum seekers from the Alps to the North Sea.
German authorities have built new refugee housing, including temporary buildings made of modules that resemble shipping containers. And they’ve set up dividers to form living spaces in sprawling convention centers.
On private message boards, German volunteers ask their friends to donate space in private residences for refugee families to live.
And then there’s the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis in Augsburg, the Cirque du Soleil of asylum homes. There, refugees live interspersed with artists, and hotel guests, whose fees help support the migrants. In their free time, they make art, practice yoga or dance together.
Facebook pages of volunteer initiatives for refugees are full of the same things – clothing, towels, bath and shower supplies, bed clothes. Let’s face it, we all need the same things to live. And people are donating them by the truckload.
The Welcome Initiative in the city of Bremen has set up a up clothing dispensary. But they don’t have everything and are asking for help.
“At the moment, we are looking for sports clothing and sports shoes (including soccer shoes) for men,” a Facebook post reads.
And where clothes are worn, they are also washed. Helpers in the town of Greifswald have found a washing machine someone at the university is giving away for free – but they won’t deliver. “Could someone pick it up?” the charity asks.
Odds and ends
In a post to Facebook, Refugee Help Bremen thanks a company’s employees for donating boxes full of toothbrushes, shampoo, hand soap, shower gel, deodorant and lotions.
And the people at Refugee Help in the city of Mainz have collected backpacks and other school supplies for children of refugee families.
A mantra migrants are hearing again and again from authorities, including directly from Chancellor Merkel is – please learn German. Many organizations are offering courses for free.
The Welcome Initiative in Bremen pairs native speakers of German with adult asylum seekers eager to learn from them.
And in Berlin, a non-profit, Berliner Bruecken, that promotes contact between Germans and refugees offers free instruction every Tuesday in classroom space housed under a railway trellis.
Bicycles are also a common item donated to refugees all over the country. In German cities, a bike and public transportation will take people very far with little need for a car.
In many cities, volunteer organizations have set up bike repair shops, where asylum seekers and volunteers repair bikes together.
Germans notoriously love to socialize, and volunteers organize events for citizens to come meet refugees. Near the city of Trier, the Network Refugees Ruwer organizes a “Cafe Welcome” every month.
And in Lueneburg, young German civic activists meet with young refugees to barbeque in the park.
Though the vast majority of Germans welcome new refugees, on the other end of the spectrum, right-wing extremists have demonstrated violently against their presence, and some have been accused of setting migrant shelters on fire.
And the political mood is stressed with lawmakers calling for the flood of migrants to stop.
The challenge for helpers continues to grow, as thousands of people fleeing misery embark in the direction of Europe each day. On Sunday, the UN High Commission for Refugees said that more than 5,500 new migrants crossed from Greece into Macedonia.
And the ideal destination for many of them is Germany.