BERLIN -- The German capital is expanding a temporary refugee shelter at a former airport to accommodate 3,600 Ukrainians, as it struggles to put up more civilians fleeing Russian attacks on vital infrastructure ahead of the upcoming cold winter months.
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 Wednesday.
“With Russian President Putin targeting the country's heat and water infrastructure and the temperatures going down below zero soon, the numbers of refugees can skyrocket at any time,” said Katja Kipping, the Berlin state government’s senator for social issues, as she toured newly opened registration facilities at terminal C.
“We must be prepared,” Kipping said, adding that most regular refugee and asylum shelters in Berlin and elsewhere in the country were already overcrowded, and finding new space for more people looking for protection in Germany needed to become a top priority.
Germany has taken in 1 million refugees from Ukraine since Russia attacked the eastern European country almost nine months ago. In addition, more asylum seekers than in previous years are coming here from countries such as Syria, Moldova or Afghanistan. Elsewhere in Europe, the number of people applying for international protection has also reached highs not seen since well over 1 million people sought refuge on the continent seven years ago.
Last week, the head of the German association of cities warned that many cities around the country are no longer able to provide decent housing for refugees.
“We will have to start relying on emergency solutions, because the regular housing that would actually be provided for this purpose is not available in quantity and quality,” Straubing mayor Markus Pannermayr said on Bayern 2 radio.
The federal government tried to allay local communities' concerns last week, saying it is willing to provide 4.25 billion euros ($4.26 billion) for this and next year to help take care of refugees and migrants. But even with new federal funds, new housing units cannot be built as quickly as people keep arriving, city officials say.
At Tegel airport, some 1,500 Ukrainian refugees have currently found a temporary home — most of them mothers with their children — as the German capital's regular refugee homes with almost 28,000 beds are full. On Wednesday, some new arrivals were sitting on long in the vast former arrival hall, slurping down hot vegetable soup, while others crouched close together on old metal seats near the walls charging their phones on multiple sockets.
A family of five with a baby in a stroller and the father using a wheelchair was lining up in the old boarding pass and security control area to get registered, while several elderly women huddled up in big coats were standing in front of the former airline gates to go through police checks and have their fingerprints and biometric pictures taken.
Berlin has welcomed more than 100,000 Ukrainians so far, and while many have found private accommodation with relatives or Germans who have opened their homes to them, some 3,000 currently rely on the city for accommodation.
Ukrainians can enter Germany without visas, but migrants from other countries looking for refuge in Germany need to apply for asylum to get into shelters.
From January through the end of September, 134,908 people applied for asylum in Germany, with about 10,700 of them now living in Berlin.
In October alone, 3,454 people applied for asylum in the German capital, which was an increase of 30% compared to September, city officials said.
To make sure all of them — as well as those expected to come — have a roof over their heads in the winter, Berlin wants to create 10,000 extra accommodation spaces until the end of this year.
“We have a Herculean task to tackle here,” Kipping said.
Follow all AP stories about global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration and of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine