Hundreds of Afghans who fled the Taliban have been evicted as an even larger flood of Ukrainian war refugees arrive.
Photo: Afghans fleeing the country are evacuated from Kabul Airport on Aug. 25, 2021, after the Taliban’s takeover. STEFANIE GLINSKI FOR FOREIGN POLICY
BERLIN—The knock on the door came when Mariam Arween was having breakfast with her husband and two small daughters.
An unexpected visitor—a social worker—stood outside, bringing even more unexpected news: The family would have to clear out their home for newly arriving refugees from Ukraine. No questions, no negotiation, just “out within 24 hours,” they were told.
Arween, 33, a social activist and refugee from Afghanistan who arrived in Berlin in late January, fleeing the Taliban with the help of the German government after receiving threats for two consecutive years, is one of hundreds of Afghans across Germany who have been shunted aside to make way for newly arrived refugees from Ukraine.
“The evictions purposefully weren’t publicized. Some people had lived in their homes for years and were ripped out of their social structures, including children who were moved to locations far from their respective schools,” said Tareq Alaows, a board member of the Berlin Refugee Council, a collaboration of different organizations helping to improve conditions for refugees in the German capital and making sure their rights are adhered to.
Alaows said the government justified the evictions by claiming that Afghans were evicted from so-called “arrival centers” where they should only be staying short term anyway. But some families had been living there for years, while other families were living in accommodation other than arrival centers.
“Few people’s living conditions improved, but most were afraid to speak up, afraid it could impact their immigration status,” Alaows said, explaining that around 10 residences had been emptied in Berlin.
A 30-year-old Afghan man, who asked for his name to be withheld, also arrived in Germany in January with his mother and two younger brothers, one of whom suffers from a heart condition.
He said that after the family was evicted from the same complex where Arween had lived, he—the family’s only English speaker—was separated from his brothers and mother and offered accommodation in a different part of the city.
While some families had been housed in the sort of arrival center Arween had called home in her first months in Germany, others lived in hotel-like housing, all paid for by the German government.
“Of course it’s not the Ukrainians’ fault, but we have to reflect on our solidarity if it’s only targeting certain people. The last months showed that different treatment of refugees is possible, and this needs to be systematically anchored in our society,” Alaows said.
The decision was made by Berlin’s Senate Department for Integration, Labor, and Social Services, arguing that it was “based on operationally necessary and difficult considerations” and that there was no alternative because Ukrainians, including many women with children, needed a roof over their heads and a bed.
“We regret that this caused additional hardships to the Afghan families [and that] the affected people had to move out of their familiar surroundings and now possibly have to keep up with their social connections with great difficulty,” said Stefan Strauss, the department’s press secretary.
He said Berlin had a total of 83 different accommodations for refugees, already housing some 22,000 people, but that arriving Ukrainians needed to be consolidated to a few defined arrival centers to simplify processing. Strauss said evicted Afghans were given other “permanent” accommodation of equivalent quality, excluding shared bathrooms and kitchens.
It’s not always quite so rosy.