‘No infrastructure for so many people’: German village of 102 getting ready to house… 750 refugees

Migrants are escorted by German police to a registration centre, after crossing the Austrian-German border in Wegscheid near Passau, Germany, November 1, 2015. © Michael Dalder
A small German village containing just 102 residents and with almost no infrastructure will have to accommodate as many as 750 asylum seekers after a decision by the regional authorities. Villagers fear the area will be unable to cope with the burden.

The first group of refugees amounting to 500 people will arrive in Sumte – a small village in the German state of Lower Saxony – as early as Monday. The one-street settlement with no shops, no school and even no police station fears that its accommodation capabilities will be pushed to the limit.

Initially, the regional authorities wanted the village to house 1,000 refugees, which they informed the settlement mayor of via e-mail in early October. At that time, this news was perceived by the villagers as a hoax.

Christian Fabel, the village’s mayor, and his wife thought “it was a joke,” which “certainly could not be true,” as they could not believe that the settlement would be ordered to house a number of asylum seekers that exceeded 10 times the number of its villagers, the New York Times reported.

However, they soon realized that it was not a joke and that it was impossible to block this decision when Alexander Gotz, a spokesman of the Lower Saxony Interior Ministry, responsible for the distribution of refugees, told Fabel that the village had “two options – yes, or yes.”

Later, after the villagers protested this decision at several meetings with regional authorities citing security concerns and a lack of necessary infrastructure, the number of refugees the settlement should house was decreased from 1,000 to a maximum of 750 people.

“The burden of 1,000 refugees for one village with only 102 residents is absolutely disproportionate – it cannot be compared with any other place in Germany,” the village’s mayor Christian Fabel said at the first meeting with the regional authorities devoted to this issue.

200 or 300 would be a justifiable number,” he added as quoted by the German Hamburger Abendblatt.

We have zero infrastructure here for so many people,” Fabel also said, as quoted by the New York Times.

Regional authorities disregarded these claims but admitted that the village’s sewage system was unlikely to cope with the sudden influx of 1,000 new residents, so they lowered the quota for the settlement in order to give time for the extension of that system.

At the same time, the villagers began calling for security to be beefed up. Local lawmaker Manfred Nahrstedt demanded that a special 24/7 manned police station should be established in the neighboring town of Neuhaus located five kilometers from the village.

Some local residents even suggested the creation of a special police unit monitoring refugees.

Both proposals were rejected by the deputy district police chef, Matthias Oltersdorf, who dubbed such measures “excessive,” as reported by the German NDR news. Oltersdorf said that Sumte did not need a permanent police presence and added that safety of the villagers would be guaranteed by the fact that street lights would stay lit all night long.

Between two fires

Now, many villagers feel betrayed by the government. Dirk Hammer, a local resident and a longtime supporter of Angel Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party expressed his disappointment with the situation in Sumte in an open letter published on Facebook.

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In this letter, he called the refugee policy of the regional authorities that stripped the villagers of their right to take part in decision making “a moderate dictatorship.” He also warned that hosting large numbers of refugees in small settlements like Sumte could give “an ideal platform for the far right.

In the meantime, the representatives of the local far-right groups call the current refugee policy of the regional authorities “asylum terror” and demand to stop it. Still, the far-right got little support among the local residents, who think that such views are incompatible with democracy.

We have to take a clear stand against these people,” Dirk Hammer said at one of the villagers’ meetings referring to the far-right, which he denounced as disruptive outsiders, the New York Times reported.

Why Sumte?

In view of the winter approaching and with the refugee influx showing no signs of slowing, German authorities now have to find as many places to shelter asylum seekers as possible in order to avoid homelessness.

The German State of Lower Saxony alone received more than 75,000 asylum requests in 2015 – almost four times as many as in the last year. Now, the regional authorities are struggling to find at least temporary shelters for refugees for the coming winter.

The asylums seekers have already been housed in storage facilities, gyms, schools, former senior homes and even military bases with many German states lacking shelters in the view of unending refugee inflow.

In October, the Lower Saxony interior ministry decided to accommodate another group of refugees in 23 empty office buildings in Sumte that were owned by a now-defunct company. The authorities say that the offices will be used as a refugee center for a year as an emergency winter shelter and the refugees will stay in the village only for the time necessary to process their asylum requests.

However, the villagers believe that those who move will be soon replaced by newcomers. “Life here is going to change,” the mayor said as quoted by the New York Times.

Germany has already taken in at least 600,000 asylums seekers since the beginning of this year and this number is expected to grow up to 800,000 or even 1 million. In the meantime, the opposition to the German government’s policy in political establishment and society is growing with anti-immigrant movements such as PEGIDA drawing more and more supporters.

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