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German City Bans Refugees From Settling There, Other Cities May Follow


Germany's welcome for asylum-seekers is wearing out. That became clear in Germany's recent elections. Mainstream political parties lost voters over that issue, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has struggled to form a government. One German state has imposed a refugee ban. The newcomers are not supposed to move to a particular city there. Other states and cities may try the same thing. Here's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Like many industrial cities in Germany, Salzgitter has seen better days. The diesel emissions cheating scandal and international push for electric cars have hurt VW, which is Salzgitter's largest employer. That, in turn, is cutting into the sprawling city's coffers. The mayor of Salzgitter is Frank Klingebiel.

FRANK KLINGEBIEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He says the 5,800 refugees who've arrived in this city of 106,000 over the past two years are overwhelming government-provided services and schools. Klingebiel says the number may not sound like a lot, but it's a higher proportion than other cities have. Refugee advocates say part of what draws them to Salzgitter is affordable housing, which is in low supply in bigger German cities. The mayor says the temporary ban will help his government do a better job of integrating existing refugees and keep residents from resenting the newcomers. But the resentment here is already high. Resident Nina Drewes says she supports the ban because she feels refugees don't want to integrate into German society.

NINA DREWES: (Speaking German).

NELSON: The 42-year-old elder-care worker says an apartment-full live above her mother's home and that they are noisy late into the night. Drewes says, "I don't feel comfortable being alone on the streets here anymore."

DREWES: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Even Syrian refugee Hassan Jandal, a day laborer who has been here for three years, says he supports the ban.

HASSAN JANDAL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He says his local kindergarten is full and that all of the students are foreigners. Jandal adds, his rent is going up because the newcomers are increasing the demand for housing. Another supporter of the ban is Dincer Dinc, whose migrant help center has seen a fivefold increase in clients. He's a German of Kurdish descent who is Salzgitter's integration facilitator. Dinc says fellow residents who used to feel OK about refugees are now angry.

DINCER DINC: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He says, "as a city, we need a break for more newcomers so we can help those already here. What good will it do to keep compounding our problems?" Dinc and the mayor hope the ban will keep more voters in Salzgitter from embracing the xenophobic, nationalist platform of Alternative for Germany, or AfD. That right-wing party received nearly 14 percent of the vote in the city in last September's parliamentary elections, which is more than anywhere else in the state. But Sascha Schiessl (ph) of the Refugee Council for Lower Saxony (ph) says restricting refugees only strengthens the AfD by validating its claim that Muslim newcomers are harming German society.

SASCHA SCHIESSL: The discussion is focused on refugees and the problems refugees create. But that's not the fact. That's not the case. The problems were there before the refugees.

NELSON: Schiessl says money, rather than bans, will ease the burden on German cities. He lauded Lower Saxony for paying Salzgitter and other affected municipalities more than $23 million to help integrate refugees. But he says a lot more funding is needed. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Salzgitter.


Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.