With German government overwhelmed by asylum-seekers, volunteers provide support

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Ruth Stephan, an administrator at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and lead organizer of Refugee Aid at KIT, in the supply room at the shelter for asylum seekers on the university’s eastern campus.

"Ruth Stephan stood outside an abandoned cafeteria repurposed as a temporary shelter for asylum seekers on the northern campus of the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT). While a long line of men waited tensely in the cold to receive a monthly stipend from the government, she kept her eye out for an Ikea truck.

An administrator at this major science and engineering university in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Stephan is a lead organizer for Refugee Aid at KIT. She is one of thousands of volunteers who have stepped up as Germany’s usually well-ordered asylum system sinks under the strain of more than one million asylum-seekers who poured into the country this past year. And the number of new entries has not slowed significantly – in January alone 50,532 people applied for asylum, an increase of 133.1% from the previous year.

While these people wait for a decision on their cases, the local government in Karlsruhe is responsible for providing them with shelter, food and health care. But that is where its mandate stops and volunteers step in. A spokesperson for the Karlsruhe Regional Council said in an emailed statement that volunteers organize all other support for asylum seekers from language classes to childcare, sports and social gatherings. Volunteers “invest a lot of time and heart into their projects,” the spokesperson wrote, and they contribute significantly to making asylum seekers “as comfortable as possible.”

To read the full article as it appeared on Civic Ideas on February 16, 2016 click here.

Research was made possible by the Transatlantic Media Fellowship Program.  

Please note that the views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of the Heinrich Boell Foundation.