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Berlin better prepared to handle Ukraine refugees after lessons of…

By Riham Alkousaa

BERLIN, March 4 (Reuters) – Scenes of Ukrainian refugees arriving at Berlin railway station and Germans on the platforms waving welcome signs have stirred memories of the massive influx of mostly Middle Eastern asylum seekers who came in 2015.

But this time, thanks largely to the lessons learned seven years ago in taking in more than one million people, Germany is better prepared to take in the Ukrainians now fleeing Russia’s invasion of their country, humanitarian aid workers said.

Some 20,000 Ukrainians have arrived so far in Germany, among more than a million the United Nations estimates to have fled in the first week of what Russia calls a “special operation” to demilitarise Ukraine and topple leaders it brands “neo-Nazis”.

“Many of the structures and helpers from 2015 are still there, they just took a little break. But they are all active again now,” Christian Lueder, co-founder of Berlin Hilft, set up to provide aid for refugees in 2015, told Reuters.

Berlin’s city senate has set up a central crisis team to coordinate the reception and hosting of the refugees around the city, with two main reception centres set up.

It has organised accommodation in hotels, hostels and private apartments.

RESPONSIBILITY

“There is now one responsibility structure. This was not the case in 2015 and 2016. We were almost completely surprised,” said Falko Liecke, the district councillor for Berlin’s Neukoelln neighbourhood.

Liecke said the city was also preparing public buildings such as the shuttered Tempelhof and Tegel airports to accommodate refugees in their halls in a “worst-case scenario”.

“It’s really unbelievable how quickly the old, large venues have been reactivated,” said Katharina Voss from the Protestant charity Diakonie.

The European Union’s decision to trigger its temporary protection mechanism and grant temporary residency to Ukrainians has eased the burden on German bureaucracy.

It means Ukrainians do not need to go through the lengthy and complicated asylum process, which sorely hampered authorities seven years ago.

It also means responsibility for the refugees is more evenly shared among all 27 EU member states. Germany and Sweden took the lion’s share of the refugees, many of whom were fleeing Syria’s civil war, in 2015-16.

Thomas Gleissner, a spokesperson for Caritas charity in Berlin, Slot Gacor Terpercaya said Germans’ readiness to help was even greater this time than in 2015 as the war is in a nearby country and affects Germans more directly.

Unterkunft-Ukraine, an online platform for private citizens to offer accommodation for Ukrainians in Germany, is one example of such solidarity with Ukraine, with more than 95,000 people signed up as hosts on the website so far.

“I believe that we will also master this crisis, but it’s no walk in the park, that’s very clear,” Gleissner said.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa Editing by Gareth Jones)