It’s official: The German government is expecting a dramatic surge in the number of refugees, with some 800,000 people likely to seek asylum this year.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière informed his colleagues in the country's 16 federal states of the new estimates from the Federal Office of Migration and Refugees on Wednesday. At the beginning of the year, the agency was expecting only 300,000.
But state officials weren’t surprised by the figures and are aware of how local communities are struggling each day with the flood of new arrivals.
Last December, for instance, the state of Rhineland-Palatinate reckonened with 12,000 refugees for this year. In the spring, officials boosted that number to 26,000. Then in July alone, another 4,000 arrived.
“The federal government has left the states to deal with organizational and financial burdens on their own,” said Rhineland-Palatinate state premier Malu Dreyer.
The burden of housing and caring for refugees has fallen largely on Germany’s states and local municipalities.
The German government so far has only agreed to set aside €1 billion, or $1.1 billion, to help pay for the rising number of refugees. But Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has indicated a willingness to raise that sum in light of the enormous flood of refugees coming to Germany.
“We will need more money than previously thought for the huge challenge posed by asylum seekers and refugees,” an official from the finance ministry told Handelsblatt. “That’s now a priority.”
Mr. Schäuble does not intend to increase Germany’s deficit, however. That means in the consultations regarding the next budget other wishes will have to take a back seat, sources say.
German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the federal government would need to set aside between €2 billion and €3 billion for the growing number of refugees. The total cost of taking care of refugees had previously been estimated at more than €5 billion, but the huge surge in asylum seekers is likely to make the actual cost much higher. In July alone, nearly 83,000 people came to Germany to ask for asylum in Europe’s largest economy.
The burden of housing and caring for them has fallen largely on Germany’s states and local municipalities. But many states have little financial cushion, as they are compelled by law to balance their budgets. State officials told Handelsblatt they needed more help from the federal government.
The situation is particularly dramatic in poorer states like Saarland and the city-state of Bremen.
“If something doesn’t happen fast, we will certainly not be able to stick to the debt limit due to these new challenges,” said Bremen mayor Carsten Sieling. He added that the federal government would have to take over the costs for refugees living “longer than a year” in the northern German city.
The state premier of Saarland, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has demanded from the federal government “a flat rate for every asylum seeker taken in by the states.”
“That would immediately provide relief for municipal budgets,” said Ralf Jäger, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Mrs. Dreyer suggested a sum of €750 each month per refugee. The overall cost would be €1,000 a month on average.
Olaf Scholz, mayor of the city-state of Hamburg, said the German government would need to pick up “about €2 billion” at least. But Torsten Albig, state premier of Schleswig-Holstein, wants more than that: “That will have to be raised accordingly after the government presents a realistic estimate of the number of refugees,” his spokesman said.
Federal and state officials want to hold a summit on the issue in September to determine how to manage the rising flow of refugees. Mr. Scholz suggested the federal government take over living and accommodation expenses for refugees after they have been in Germany for a year.
The eastern German state of Saxony, however, wants the government to handle all expenses related to the initial arrival of asylum seekers and refugees. The state also wants the government to deal with the deportation of people who were refused asylum.
The southern state of Bavaria is expecting the government to take over at least €2 billion each year in accommodation costs currently shouldered by the states. Lower Saxony has also started an initiative in the Bundesrat, Germany’s upper house of parliament representing the 16 states, which would make it easier to build housing for refugees.