City Council Social Integration, Inclusion, Equality and Seniors Officer, Christine Tabner-Bennecke, in an interview with the Starnberger Merkur about the current situation of refugees in the area.
Starnberg – Donations of money and goods, specially organized aid transfers, housing offers – The wave of readiness to help Starnberg County for people from Ukraine was remarkable after Russia invaded the country on February 24. How is it now, almost four months later? Starnberger Merkur spoke to Kerstin Täubner-Benicke about this. The 54-year-old from Starnberg is not only the City Council’s Administrator for Social, Integration, Equality and Seniors, but he also coordinates the “Starnberg Help” network. There are similar initiatives in other communities in the region.
Mrs. Tübner-Pinick, how would you describe the current mood among refugees from Ukraine and the people who support them?
We have all come down to earth. At first there were bureaucratic obstacles, for example regarding registration. Lots of things are now resolved. But some administrative procedures are still difficult. Some people from Ukraine waited three months to get their fake certificate, which is required for obtaining the right of residence. The pressing problems now are the housing of the people and the question of the places for kindergarten.
The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andrei Melnik, recently criticized the fact that many Ukrainian refugees do not feel comfortable in Germany. Did you make such observations as well?
No. I was so grateful and in disbelief that there were so many people helping strangers.
However, the district office has also heard that some hosts have now withdrawn their lodging offers, whether due to overcrowding or other reasons.
There is everything. For example, owners who prefer to leave their house empty because they want to sell it. So there is still a living space that can be revitalized. However, I am also aware of cases of people who have received guests from Ukraine but now want to get rooms for free again. And there are people for whom Ukrainians have become new members of the family. It is the full range.
The “Starnberg Help” initiative offers, among other things, playgroups, get-togethers and parent-child groups. Of course, there are similar offers in the municipalities of other provinces. How good are these acceptable offers?
Good in general. Our playgroup, for example, started on June 8th and has ten venues, seven of which are currently occupied. All of them are kindergarten children between three and five and a half years old and are supervised by a Ukrainian psychiatrist. But there are bureaucratic hurdles here, too. We offer three hours in three days to remain less than the required ten hours for a group of childcare that requires specialists recognized in Germany. But we are very grateful for the mayor and city management’s support for the project.
The focus is on Ukraine and its people, while other crisis and war zones have disappeared from view. Can you understand when refugees, for example from Syria or Afghanistan, some of whom have been living with us for years, feel neglected?
I can definitely understand that. Many assistants feel the same way. There is some kind of uncertainty there.
What should be done so that there is no conflict?
There should be easier work and easy access to integration courses. There is, of course, a high probability of a conflict in the housing market, which is already very difficult in our region.
What challenges do you see the region facing in the coming weeks and months in terms of dealing with refugees?
Nobody knows how the situation will develop and when people will be able to return home, which is what many Ukrainians want. Therefore: work, language and housing are the most important things. Continue to feel welcome, but also contribute yourself and develop your independence.
After the so-called refugee crisis of 2015/2016, after the initial euphoria, many volunteers complained of bureaucratic hurdles, became increasingly exhausted and gave up. How do you intend to prevent such a development now?
We regularly organize round tables every four weeks to exchange ideas and try to distribute tasks better. For example, it is enough if you are sponsoring a family, it is not required that it be three families.
Yesterday was World Refugee Day. What is the meaning of this day?
Every refugee is someone with their own story and not just an anonymous case or number. Behind every name hides fate. Everyone had parents, relatives and friends who had to leave. Hussein from Afghanistan and Anastasia from Ukraine share the same fate, that they had to leave their homeland. Both hope to see family members again and have a happy life. The great willingness to help people from Ukraine and from elsewhere is a strong sign of charitable work. This applies to state-regulated assistance as well as to volunteer work. Thanks and appreciation to these volunteers, without them many things would not work, including in the Starnberg district.