Migrants from the Western Balkans flood German cities during the winter
German cities faced yet another influx of refugees this winter, but this time it was not Ukrainians fleeing war, but people from Western Balkan countries fleeing harsh winters and poor social conditions.
According to Katja Reuter, the western city’s press officer, Cologne has recorded more migrants from Western Balkans in recent months than during the 1991-2001 Yugoslav Wars.
Approximately 1,000 people from the West Balkans live in Cologne city housing. However, a more precise number is not available due to fluctuations.
According to Reuter, about 40 percent of the refugees come from Ukraine, and the other nationalities make up over 60 percent. The majority of refugees are Albanian.
With an overachievement reception rate of 107.23 percent, the city has reached its official refugee capacity.
Route through the Western Balkans
Based on the EU’s external border agency, the Western Balkan route was the most popular for illegal border crossings in 2022. Over the past year, Frontex recorded 145,600 illegal crossings through the Western Balkans, a 136% increase from 2015.
Citizens from Syria, Afghanistan, and Turkey accounted for the majority of detections along this route.
To curb illegal migration, the EU has now decided to step up its presence at the Western Balkan borders with Frontex deploying staff there shortly – which will be the first time the agency has employees monitoring non-EU borders.
The city does not give refugee status to migrants from the Balkans until they receive legal asylum status from Germany’s immigration authorities, which can take months or years.
“The city of Cologne is required to house all refugees regardless of their nationality or origin. The occupancy management organizes city housing accordingly,” Reuter said.
In most cases, refugees from different nations or origins are housed together as a result of this system. Refugees from the same country of origin tend to fill up most of the accommodations due to housing demands or a large number of newly arrived refugees.
In other words, there are both Ukrainian refugees living with other nationalities as well as those living only with their own countrymen.
Serbia, Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia
It was a silver lining for Cologne that their fall prediction did not come true — that there would be a flood of Ukrainian refugees as a result of Russian attacks on the country’s critical infrastructure. Each day, they only receive two to four Ukrainian refugees.
In the spring, migrants from the Western Balkans are expected to leave the city, so this has helped the city cope during winter.
During the winter, people from the Western Balkans go to Germany and then return in spring due to poor social conditions in their countries of origin, such as expensive heating material, Reuter explained.
“In cities like Cologne, there are many people looking for affordable apartments and such, including refugees. It is challenging to provide enough space for refugees,” she said.
Munich, the capital of Upper Bavaria, is currently housing 850 Western Balkan migrants – nearly double last year’s number.
Most migrants come from North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia, and while the numbers are currently low, tensions between the latter two countries might lead to more migrants in the future.
Serbs living in Kosovo were forbidden from using Belgrade-issued license plates since November, when Kosovo made a routine decision to ban them from using Belgrade-issued license plates in Kosovo. Western countries are concerned about the escalating tensions between Serbia and its Russian ally as it refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence.
When asked how Upper Bavaria is preparing for an influx of refugees should tensions escalate, press officer Wolfgang Rupp told Euronews: “We cannot make predictions about refugee arrivals in the future.” Nevertheless, Upper Bavaria’s District Government is continuously expanding its accommodations to accommodate as many migrants as possible.”
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