How Ger­many deals with 10,000 refugees a day

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The emer­gency struc­tures put in place by Ber­lin to man­age the refugee cri­sis has the huge task of prov­ing An­gela Merkel’s “we can do it” claim cor­rect, ac­cord­ing to the Ger­man lib­eral daily Der Tagesspiegel.

Cri­sis? It’s not a word that Emily Haber would use. Cri­sis de­notes catas­tro­phe, and that is not how they want to cat­e­gorise the in­flux of refugees into Ger­many. Haber, the state sec­re­tary un­der Ger­man In­te­rior Min­is­ter Thomas de Maiz­ière, is a diplo­mat and was head of a cri­sis team at the For­eign Of­fice, a post that in­volved deal­ing with ex­cep­tion­ally dif­fi­cult sce­nar­ios.

Whether she wants to call it a cri­sis or not, Emily Haber has man­aged such a sce­nario since the end of Au­gust. Ini­tially, it was just her and a hand­ful of peo­ple from her min­istry and the Ger­man re­gions.

Since the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber, how­ever, there has been a fixed gov­ern­men­tal mech­a­nism for deal­ing with it, in co­or­di­na­tion with the re­gions, the se­cu­rity ser­vices and large com­pa­nies.

Sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple have crossed into Ger­many al­ready and pic­tures of over­crowded re­cep­tion cen­tres are a daily oc­cur­rence in the news me­dia. Haber’s task is to di­rect the streams of new ar­rivals in such a way to bring or­der to the chaos. At her dis­posal is the en­tire bu­reau­cratic ma­chine, with the aim of prov­ing cor­rect the Chan­cel­lor’s “we can do it” sound­bite.

At the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber, the Ger­man gov­ern­ment trans­ferred “the op­er­a­tional co­or­di­na­tion of the ex­tra­or­di­nary refugee sit­u­a­tion” from Thomas de Maiz­ière’s min­istry to An­gela Merkel’s chief of staff.

The de­ci­sion was widely re­ported as Merkel at­tempt­ing to de­power or oust de Maiz­ière. Af­ter weeks of un­cer­tainty over who was re­spon­si­ble for what, Pe­ter Alt­maier was given “over­all po­lit­i­cal co­or­di­na­tion” of the cri­sis.

In prac­ti­cal terms, that means that Alt­maier con­cerns him­self with the in­ter­na­tional and Euro­pean ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the cri­sis, as well as en­sur­ing that the var­i­ous min­istries and the 16 re­gions co­or­di­nate and ex­e­cute their tasks ap­pro­pri­ately. Helge Braun, a par­lia­men­tary state sec­re­tary in the Chan­cellery, is par­tic­u­larly re­spon­si­ble for co­or­di­nat­ing fed­eral-state re­la­tions, a job she has held since be­fore the start of the cri­sis.

Alt­maier sec­onded Jan Hecker from the Fed­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tive Court to head a newly-cre­ated depart­ment. Hecker was at the in­te­rior min­istry for many years in its “Im­mi­gra­tion law” unit.

How­ever, when it comes to spe­cial trains, win­ter quar­ters and sim­i­lar prac­ti­cal in­stru­ments, the day-to-day work­ings are still the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the in­te­rior min­istry and Emily Haber, whose cri­sis man­age­ment team is cen­tral to the en­tire sit­u­a­tion.

Wolf­gang Lohmann, chief of the re­gions’ anti-riot po­lice, pro­vides di­rec­tion for the unit. Hardly any­one else could pro­vide as ex­ten­sive ex­per­tise on th­ese kinds of is­sues as Lohmann, given that he com­mands around 15,000 riot po­lice that are on-hand to deal with nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, se­ri­ous ac­ci­dents and events that jeop­ar­dise the ex­is­tence of democ­racy.

Ralf Tiesler, deputy head of the Fed­eral Of­fice of Civil Pro­tec­tion and Dis­as­ter As­sis­tance, and his team deal with the 10,000 or so refugees that ar­rive ev­ery day, en­sur­ing they are trans­ported and housed ac­cord­ingly.

Trans­port­ing so many peo­ple em­pha­sises how dif­fi­cult it is to keep the wheels from fall­ing off the en­tire op­er­a­tion. In the sum­mer, Haber per­son­ally con­tacted Ron­ald Po­falla in or­der to or­gan­ise spe­cial night trains to move refugees that had sud­denly ar­rived.

Po­falla, once CDU gen­eral sec­re­tary and later the chief of the chan­cellery, sits on the board of Deutsche Bahn and be­came the gov­ern­ment’s guar­an­tor. Due to the ur­gency of Haber’s re­quest, it was un­clear who was li­able for pay­ment.

In the mean­time, Po­falla has or­gan­ised a task­force that con­stantly or­gan­ises four spe­cial refugee trains and their sched­ul­ing on the reg­u­lar train timetable. He has since clar­i­fied with Werner Gatzer of the fi­nance min­istry that the state will cover the costs.

Trans­porta­tion, how­ever, is just a small part of the prob­lem. Un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren and how to house them con­stantly cre­ates new le­gal prob­lems. Twice a week, on Tues­days and Thurs­days at 1pm, Haber chairs a meet­ing where the var­i­ous min­istries are briefed.

It is not just the daily chaos in Bavaria that is on the agenda, all other is­sues are talked about, clar­i­fied and in­struc­tions given. For of­fi­cials it is an en­tirely new ex­pe­ri­ence, hi­er­ar­chies have been re­de­fined and Haber has ac­cess to per­son­nel from other min­istries. There is no longer time to re­quest “the opin­ion of the house”. The cri­sis takes prece­dence.

When the mem­bers of Haber’s bi-weekly meet­ing are ex­hausted or come up short, she is able to call upon the help of a steer­ing com­mit­tee made up of the state sec­re­taries from ev­ery min­istry, which she has met with ev­ery Fri­day since Oc­to­ber.

In­ci­den­tally, it seems that prob­lems mostly emerge on Wed­nes­days. Ad­di­tion­ally, it is not at the high­est level, with Pe­ter Alt­maier, where the is­sues re­veal them­selves, it is at low-level meet­ings, at the end of the chain of com­mand, in the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, dis­tricts and re­gions, where the refugee cri­sis is felt most keenly.

The struc­tures put in place by Ber­lin demon­strate whether or not An­gela Merkel’s claim be­comes a re­al­ity or not. will ul­ti­mately “we can do it”

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