In late 2015, in the midst of a mass exodus from Syria and other parts of the Middle East, all eyes were on Germany. Backed by then-chancellor Angela Merkel, the country took in a million refugees – but with a good amount of logistical and political chaos in the early stages. Nearly seven years on, with a steady stream of refugees now arriving from Ukraine, it’s clear that Germany has learnt a lot about how to provide emergency aid.
Outside Berlin’s main train station, Hauptbahnhof (pictured), is a “welcome hall” tent operated by Stadtmission, a Berlin volunteer organisation that aids the homeless. Volunteers are dishing up hot drinks and soup, while Ukrainian arrivals in good spirits take selfies with an open-armed bear (the city’s mascot). Nearby is a Vodafone stand with free Sim cards for calling numbers in Ukraine and Germany. On the lowest level of the station itself are busy donation stations and children’s play areas. Volunteers in yellow and orange vests carry signs indicating what languages they speak. It’s not all rosy of course: the Berlin police have posted multilingual signage in the train station warning Ukrainian women to avoid single men offering help.
Stadtmission and other aid organisations are also helping arrivals to find housing, using specially created websites such as unterkunft-ukraine.de to ease the load on official shelters. Still, those shelters are filling up and, depending on political developments, new distribution policies will have to be thought through quickly: more than 200,000 refugees have already registered in Germany and about 10,000 are arriving every day in Berlin, leaving mayor Franziska Giffey to warn that “Berlin can’t do it alone”. The newest predictions forecast far higher numbers of incoming refugees than in 2015. Germany will need to ensure its improved organisation extends well beyond the first four weeks of the invasion.
Bradley is Monocle’s Berlin correspondent.