German authorities are applying heavy-handed tactics to find housing for the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees pouring into the country from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
With existing shelters filled to capacity, federal, state and local authorities are now using legally and morally dubious measures — including the expropriation of private property and the eviction of German citizens from their homes — to make room for the newcomers.
German taxpayers are also being obliged to make colossal economic sacrifices to accommodate the influx of migrants, many of whom have no prospect of ever finding a job in the country. Sustaining the 800,000 migrants and refugees who are expected to arrive in Germany in 2015 will cost taxpayers at least at least 11 billion euros ($12 billion) a year for years to come.
As the migration crisis intensifies, and Germans are waking up to the sheer scale of the economic, financial and social costs they will expected to bear in the years ahead, anger is brewing.
In Hamburg, the second-largest city in Germany, municipal officials on September 23 introduced an audacious bill in the local parliament (Hamburgische Bürgerschaft) that would allow the city to seize vacant commercial real estate (office buildings and land) and use it to house migrants.
City officials argue the measure is necessary because more than 400 new migrants are arriving in Hamburg each day and all the existing refugee shelters are full. They say that owners of vacant real estate have refused to make their property available to the city on a voluntary basis, and thus the city should be given the right to take it by force.
The measure, which will be voted upon in the Hamburg parliament within the next two weeks, is being applauded by those on the left of the political spectrum. "We are doing everything we can to ensure that the refugees are not homeless during the coming winter," Senator Till Steffen of the Green Party said. "For this reason, we need to use vacant commercial properties."
Others argue that efforts by the state to seize private property are autocratic and reek of Communism. "The proposed confiscation of private land and buildings is a massive attack on the property rights of the citizens of Hamburg," said André Trepoll of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). "It amounts to an expropriation by the state." He said the proposed measure is a "law of intimidation" that amounts to a "political dam break with far-reaching implications." He added: "The ends do not justify any and all means."
The leader of the Free Democrats (FDP) in Hamburg, Katja Suding, said that the proposed law is an "unacceptable crossing of red lines... Such coercive measures will only fuel resentment against refugees."
In Tübingen, a town in Baden-Württemberg, Mayor Boris Palmer (also of the Green Party), is making offers to rent or buy vacant properties to house migrants. But he is also threatening to confiscate the property of landlords who dare to reject his offer. In an interview with the newspaper Die Welt, Palmer said:
"In the written offers, I advise that the Police Law (Polizeigesetz) gives us the possibility, in cases of emergency, to confiscate homes for several months. The law provides for seizure in emergencies. I want to avoid this, but if there is no other way, I will make use of this law."
When asked if he was afraid of lawsuits, Palmer said:
"No. The Police Law has clear rules. When the town is threatened with homelessness, empty homes may be confiscated. This emergency can happen when accommodations are overcrowded and we continue to receive 50 new migrants in Tübingen. If a property is confiscated, we would order immediate enforcement. That is to say, a lawsuit to determine the legality of the confiscation can only be resolved after the fact. But the accommodation would succeed in any event."
In February 2015, officials in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) seized a private resort in the town of Olpe to provide housing for up to 400 migrants. The initial plan was for the town to purchase the resort from its Bavarian owners and rent it to NRW, but NRW officials decided to confiscate the property instead. According to NRW Interior Minister Ralf Jäger, properties may be seized whenever there is a "threat to public order and safety," and the threat of mass homelessness among migrants fits the bill.
In Nieheim, another town in NRW, Mayor Rainer Vidal is using a legal maneuver called "right of repossession" (Eigenbedarf) to terminate the leases of German citizens living in state-owned apartment buildings so that migrants can move in.
On September 1, 51-year-old Bettina Halbey, who has been living in her apartment for more than 16 years, received a letter notifying her that she must vacate her apartment by May 2016 so that migrants can move in. Halbey was shell-shocked:
"I'm completely taken by surprise. I find it impossible to understand how the city can treat me like this. I cannot come to grips with this situation. I have struggled through life with grief and sorrow and now I get an eviction notice. It is a like a kick in the stomach."
Halbey, a nurse, says that it will be difficult for her to find another place to live: "I have a dog and a cat. Many landlords will not even consider renting to me."
Out with the old, in with the new... German authorities are using legally and morally dubious measures — including the eviction of German citizens from their homes — in an attempt to find housing for hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving this year.
In the same building, a single mother with two children has been given until August 2016 to move out of her apartment, also to make room for migrants. Initially, she had been ordered to vacate the property by November 2015, but her eviction was delayed to allow her daughter to finish the school year without interruption.
In an interview with the newspaper Westfalen-Blatt, Vidal, an independent who does not belong to any political party, said: "I know this is an unconventional measure. But as a community, we have an obligation to provide housing for migrants." He said he wanted to turn the entire apartment building into housing for migrants. Vidal said it would not be financially viable to house them anywhere else.
In some cases, landlords are evicting long-time residents because the government is offering them more money to house migrants than they are receiving in rent from existing tenants.
In Braunsbedra, a small town in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, a landlord evicted dozens of residents from an apartment building to make way for migrants. According to local media, the landlord, Marcus Skowronek, is being paid 552 euros ($617) for each migrant he takes in. By cramming as many migrants into his property as possible, he stands to receive payments of more than 2 million euros a year from local and regional governments.
When reporters from public broadcaster Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk visited the property to interview Skowronek, he said:
"I am asking you to leave the premises. You are banned (Hausverbot) from entering the building. Please leave the property. I am sorry. Otherwise I will have to call the police. Please go."
In Berlin, the Institute for Urban Development, the Housing Industry and Loan Associations (Berliner Institut für Städtebau, Wohnungswirtschaft und Bausparwesen, IFS) has warned that, given the influx of so many migrants, the demand for housing will outstrip supply for many years to come. Of the 285,000 building permits approved in 2014, only 56,000 were apartments in multi-unit buildings of the kind that are suitable for migrants.
The IFS is now calling for the initiation of a process in which Germans who are currently living in inexpensive housing, but who can afford more expensive accommodations, move out of their existing homes to make way for migrants. According to the IFS:
"Considering that migrants cannot afford to rent new properties, the vast majority can only afford cheaper housing, a chain reaction of moves (Umzugsketten) must be initiated in which higher income households purchase or build more expensive accommodations for themselves in order to free up the less expensive housing for migrants."
The IFS does not explain why Germans who are living within their means should suddenly be expected to take on debt to purchase a more expensive home.
Germans are not only being evicted from their homes to make way for migrants, they are also being removed from their schools.
In Lübbecke, another town in NRW, teachers and students were given less than 24 hours to vacate the Jahn-Realschule, a secondary school for 150 students, so that the building can be used to house 300 migrants.
The school principal, Marion Bienen, said that municipal authorities notified her at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, September 15, that last day of classes at the school would be Wednesday, September 16. Students were ordered immediately to remove all of their belongings from the premises and to take a week off until alternative classrooms could be found. Bienen said:
"My students are also human beings. You cannot treat them this way. They were given 15 minutes to remove their belongings from the classroom. Then they had to get out. The evacuation was as during wartime.... There were no discussions. No one forewarned us."
The Center for Economic Studies, a think tank based in Munich, has published a report warning that most of the migrants arriving in Germany lack the most basic qualifications to find work in the country. This implies that they will become long-term wards of the state and thus a drag on the German economy. The report advises lowering the minimum wage as a way to prevent a surge in the unemployment rate:
"To ensure that the refugee crisis does not lead to an ongoing financial overload for the German taxpayer, refugees must find paid employment as soon as possible, so that they can contribute to their own livelihoods. It is feared that many of them will not be able to find employment at the minimum wage of 8.50 euros because their productivity simply is too low. Therefore, the minimum wage should be lowered, so that the unemployment rate does not go up."
Meanwhile, politicians are demanding that German citizens do more to ensure that the migrants feel at home. But a first-hand account of the goings-on in a refugee shelter articulates the frustration felt by many Germans that this is a one-way street:
"For about a week now, 500 migrants and refugees are being housed in the gym in our neighborhood. So I went over there because I wanted to see the conditions there with my own eyes. There were about ten vehicles belonging to the Red Cross and volunteers.
"Older men over 60 were unloading tables and benches from the trucks, cleaning them with a bucket of water and cloth, and then carrying them into the hall....
"What made me really angry was to see the incredible lethargy of the young men. All of them in their 20s and 30s, all sitting there, smoking and looking at their cell phones, while the 60-year-old volunteers where laboring away....
"While I was watching how the Red Cross volunteers were working and no one was helping them, I saw an unbelievable situation: an elderly gentleman was trying to carry a table into the hall when a refugee returned from the city center with a shopping bag. The elderly volunteer lifted the table halfway, looked at the migrant and moved his head asking the migrant to lend a hand. The migrant paused for a moment and then just walked away. I could hardly believe what I saw."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. His first book, Global Fire, will be out in early 2016.