German family ordered to share flat with foreigners

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The Independent Online
The village of Lemforde in northern Germany shot to national notoriety yesterday. The municipal authorities there have expropriated a room in a council flat occupied by a German family, and put two Polish gypsy asylum- seekers in it. 'Family forced to take in asylum-seekers', ran the thick headline in Germany's biggest-selling daily, Bild.

Playing on widespread fears that the refugee influx is reaching uncontrollable proportions, the paper sought to inform its readers 'what rights you have, when your flat is seized'.

According to Herbert Petering, a senior counsellor in Lemforde, the authorities simply had no choice. 'The problem with the asylum-seekers is that we just have no more space: we do not know where to house them anymore,' he says. The Lemforde area has a population of 7,000. Under the federal distribution system, whereby the more than 400,000 refugees expected in Germany this year are spread throughout the country on a quota basis, the municipality has been allocated 150 asylum-seekers. 'The law is what it is, and we have to apply it. But the law does not build hostels,' says Mr Petering.

The answer came for the desperate authorities in the form of the flat occupied by the five members of the Stegmann family. Having lost their previous accommodation, they had been given a flat in the council building for the homeless. Later, however, came a letter stating that 'due to the difficulty in housing refugees, the authorities have been forced to reduce the allocation of living-space to a minimum: 5 square metres per person'. The letter added: 'The room in the front of the flat on the left is to be made available to other people.'

The two Polish asylum-seekers, Anatol and Joaba, have now moved in; the Stegmann family has retreated to the rest of the flat. The local council was besieged with calls yesterday from around the country, most of them 'exceedingly hostile', said Mr Petering. His answer to the dilemma: 'The Stegmanns have jobs. They should move out and find a flat on the open market.'

According to Bild, Germans should now fear for their holiday homes if they are not regularly used. However, to the obvious relief of millions, the paper declared that asylum-seekers cannot erect tents in peoples' gardens or move into their caravans.

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