Germany: Thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians exploited by landlords in Berlin
Czech Radio reports that authorities in the Neukölln quarter of Berlin have 5 500 people predominantly from Bulgaria and Romania registered there, but unofficial estimates claim actual numbers are twice that. The immigrants are drawn to Germany by its comparatively higher wages as well as its welfare system, and some landlords are doing their best to make money on the trend.
"When you walk through the neighborhood, you see many buildings in poor condition. The landlords do not take care of them, but they have discovered immigration as a new kind of hustle. You can find as many as 20 people sleeping on mattresses in a two-room unit. They pay between EUR 200 and 300 per month for a single sleeping place," Neukölln local councilor Franziska Giffey describes.
That was the precise description of the situation on Harzerstrasse in Neukölln. Several Romani families were living there without water, surrounded by uncollected garbage and rats.
Benjamin Marx of a Catholic apartment collective then had the buildings reconstructed. The plaster, covered in artistic drawings, still shines like new and everything is clean, with no litter in sight.
"We wanted to show that it can work," Marx explains. The collective leases 60 % of its 137 apartments to Romani families.
"Most of the people who live here work and also draw on the child welfare supplement and other welfare. They pay regularly," he says.
"The child welfare supplement in Bulgaria and Romania ranges from EUR 7 to EUR 10, while here it is EUR 200. I'm sure that if you were in that same situation, you would also think about making the journey here," councilor Giffey says.
Almost half of the inhabitants in Neukölln have roots abroad. The local council says this latest wave of immigration has already exceeded sustainable limits.
"More and more school directors and teachers have begun coming to tell us they are having problems. They have more and more pupils at school who do not speak German at all, and some have no experience with school at all. They are asking how it can be that so many pupils are all living at the same address," Giffey says.
Schools where 90 % of the children are not German face other problems such as family illiteracy, pupils' lack of health insurance, and families with alarming social backgrounds. Giffey says mastering German is one condition for the successful integration of foreigners into German society.
Inexperienced immigrants are exploited by various clever schemes and the authorities have almost no powers with which to intervene unless the victims themselves come forward to ask for help. More and more foreigners from the east are heading for Berlin nevertheless.
This is the other side of freedom of movement in the European Union. "We politicians at local level have no choice but to simply respond if we don't the social order to be disrupted here," Giffey says.
"Any chain is only as strong as its weakest link," the councilor says in closing. "The EU must address this situation directly in those countries."
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