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Migrants sue Berlin’s main refugee center for delays to welfare handouts

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


After weeks of waiting to get registered with Berlin authorities, a group of refugees and migrants have sued Berlin’s main refugee center for failing to grant their asylum benefits on time, which they were promised when Germany took them in.

The temporary injunction filed at the Berlin Social Court seeks the immediate disbursement of payments and benefits by the State Office of Health and Welfare (LaGeSo). The group of some 20 asylum seekers is also urging the government to immediately speed up the procedure for processing urgent applications.

The applicants claim that they had not been registered yet, despite weeks of waiting in front of the LaGeSo office to receive money for living expenses. Many spend weeks camping out on the streets trying to make the ends meet, as night-time temperatures in the city fall to 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). Until their papers are processed, the refugees have no access to government refugee shelters or benefits.



Spokesman for the Berlin Social Court, Marcus Howe, said that the court is first trying to accommodate those applicants with “emergency” situations, according to DPA news agency. The spokesman stressed that the refugees are trying to “put pressure on authorities” by bringing the case out in the open.

While the group awaits a court ruling in the coming days, the spokesman highlighted that this was not the first case of its kind filed recently. However this is by far the largest class action suit by migrants filed with the court over the past two weeks.

The lawsuit was welcomed by humanitarian NGO "Moabit hilft!" that criticized LaGeSo for their slow work. According to the NGO up to 500 people line up per day to get registered.

"The desperate, waiting people every day are getting more and more desperate, and the winter is coming," said the website of the initiative which seeks funds to help the migrants.

LaGeSo claims that their staff are completely overloaded and have only managed to process about 350 cases per day, from some 2,000 people that line up every day.

On Thursday, Berlin authorities expect to open a new registration center for the refugees, in hope that more asylum seekers could soon get their paperwork in order. Authorities estimate that the new center could process up to 1,000 cases per day. Meanwhile Secretary of State for Social Affairs in the Berlin, Dirk Gerstle, announced that by the end of the year, 60,000 refugees in Berlin must be registered, hoping to complete the work in 60 working days.

Despite the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration that “we can do it!” in September, when she promised to take care of refugees and open German borders, the nation is now implementing temporary border controls until the end of October.

The measure to conduct passport check in the Schengen Area follows a record number of migrants arriving in Germany. The government expects 800,000 new arrivals this year with some estimates predicting that more than a million will come.

To deal with the influx Germany is pondering setting up 'transit zones' on its borders that will screen out the legitimate asylum claims. The idea has been opposed by Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel’s opposition.

The EU Commission has said that “transit zones” would be “by exceptional measures for a limited amount of time.”

"Transit zones are not entirely unknown, as they help manage the movement of people in airports", EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Tuesday. “They make sense at external borders.”

Meanwhile the latest public opinion survey, by YouGov into the refugee crisis, showed that 56 percent of people oppose accepting more migrants as they think the capacity of the country has reached its limit. Only 19 percent thought the country could definitely take in more refugees, and the majority think that Merkel was wrong to promise that "we'll manage this".

Merkel’s government is also facing pressure from Bavaria, which has threatened to file a constitutional complaint against the federal government unless it implements efficient measures to curb the influx of refugees.

Around 700,000 people have arrived in Europe fleeing the war zones in Africa and Wider Middle East, most of them via Greece and Italy, overwhelming border authorities and reception facilities.

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