GERMANY

Site of Dachau concentration camp to serve as refugee centre

Former Nazi camps among solutions to accommodation shortage

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 February, 2015, 7:45am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 February, 2015, 7:45am

Last Tuesday, the world remembered the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. The same day, the German city of Augsburg decided to turn a branch of the former death camp at Dachau into a refugee centre.

The asylum seekers were to live in a building where thousands of slave labourers suffered and died under the Nazi regime.

The Dachau outpost is not the only concentration-camp site that is being turned into a refugee centre in Germany.

In the middle of January, the city of Schwerte started to move asylum-seekers who had volunteered to be relocated into a branch of the former Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald.

Regional integration secretary Guntram Schneider had previously criticised the plan, saying that the city's intentions would be misunderstood abroad.

Schwerte's mayor pursued his plans despite the criticism. At a news conference, he defended the plan to house the refugees at the prison-camp site. He said refugees were being accommodated in a house built after the second world war on the grounds of the site, rather than a former concentration-camp barracks.

The building in question was also used as a refugee centre nearly two decades ago.

In Augsburg, city officials are trying to emphasise their good intentions.

According to the newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine, local politicians welcomed the proposal, saying that turning the former barracks into a refugee centre would make it a "better memorial site than a museum would be".

Antje Seubert, a representative of the Green Party, celebrated the decision as a "victory over fascism".

Germany is struggling to deal with a growing influx of refugees.

In 2013 and 2014, more asylum claims were submitted in Germany than in any other country, leading to a shortage of housing for the refugees.

City representatives have turned to such unusual alternatives as empty warehouses, military barracks and tents.

Officials have also had to deal with protests by locals opposed to the mass accommodation.

In recent weeks, the anti-Muslim Pegida movement has gained support, particularly in eastern Germany. Among the movement's goals is the creation of a new immigration law that would make it more difficult for refugees to come to Germany and easier to deport asylum seekers.

Most national-level German politicians are opposed to Pegida's goals, and momentum for pro-tolerance marches and protests has grown in recent weeks.

Local politicians and city officials, however, are increasingly concerned about the lack of housing and support for new asylum-seekers.

Last year, German refugee centres were attacked about 150 times, presumably by right-wing extremists, according to a recent report by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation.

Given such worrisome trends, some consider the current debate about the accommodation of refugees on former concentration-camp sites as overblown and a distraction from more pressing concerns.

"The use of decaying buildings, containers or even tents as refugee centres does neither enable people to live in dignity, nor will it promote assimilation," said the German newspaper Handelsblatt.