German Army Called in to Help Provide Shelter for Migrants

Record numbers of asylum seekers in Germany have prompted the government to call in the army to help deal with the growing crisis, raising concerns from critics who say the move violates the constitution, even though their role is limited to providing shelter.

"The Bundeswehr will indeed help to erect tents and also will provide beds," said a spokesperson for the German Army.

The decision has sparked criticism from some politicians in the country, where there are restrictions on military deployments for anything other than defence or national emergencies. The restrictions were demanded by the allied forces after World War II.

Politicians from Social Democratic Party (SPD), Germany's main center-left party, are among those who oppose the decision, according to the Times newspaper. "We are strictly opposed to changing the basic law of the country for this purpose," said Rüdiger Erben, deputy leader of the SPD in the central state of Saxony-Anhalt.

However, Ursula von der Leyen, the German Defence Minister, said that the use of the army in helping to erect tents was a gesture of goodwill, as reported by the Times. "The accommodation and care of refugees is a major task for society. For us in the armed forces it is a matter of course to help wherever we can," she was quoted as saying.

The decision comes at a time when Germany is struggling with record numbers of asylum seekers entering the country. About 79,000 refugees arrived in the country last month alone—an "all time record" according to the Ministry of Immigration and Refugees. The government expects the number of people seeking asylum to more than double this year to 450,000, compared to 2014, a record for Germany, and the government has agreed to spend one billion euros ($1.1 billion) on tackling the crisis, although critics want that figure doubled.

More than 300,000 asylum seekers have registered in Germany since the start of 2015, according to the German daily newspaper Die Welt, and many of the country's states have called for greater federal aid to cope with the influx to their regions.

According to an army spokesperson, 63 tents will be erected in the town of Doberlug-Kirchhain, Brandenburg, on Thursday and on August 11, 15 tents will be set up in the town of Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt. Another 63 tents will be erected in Hamburg, bringing the total number of tents so far confirmed to be put up by the army at 141. The capacity of one tent is eight to 10 people. There are no current plans for the army to assist in setting up sanitary facilities or take part in any further activity, despite reports to the contrary. It is unclear how many soldiers will be involved in the operation.

LtCol Uwe Nowitzki, spokesperson for the armed forces in Brandenburg, told Newsweek that 21 trucks would transport 63 tents and 500 beds to camps across the state, accompanied by a platoon of 42 soldiers. This equipment will be delivered on Thursday, and will then be set up with the help of a further 30 soldiers, who are specially trained in helping to construct tents in humanitarian situations. Overall the operation will assist around 500 refugees, with eight sleeping in each tent. The operation will conclude next Tuesday.

"The resources of the state have all been used up, and the army is the last resort, that is why the state of Brandenburg requested help from the German army," Nowitzki explains. "We have to cope with a number of refugees right now, coming especially from Syria and Iraq, and the German armed forces are happy to help those refugees who are clearly in need."

Until now, tents have been set up by local authorities with the help of the German Red Cross, with schools, sports halls and campsites being used to house refugees across the country. The German Red Cross currently runs nine camps for a total of 300 refugees.

The growing numbers of new arrivals has caused unrest in some parts of the country. Officials recorded 202 xenophobic attacks in the first six months of this year alone—the same amount as there were for the whole of 2014. In one recent case, a local pro-refugee's politician's car was blown up, in what some believe to have been a politically-motivated attack.

On Sunday, an asylum seeker from Guinea was shot and wounded by police at a refugee center in Bonn in West Germany, according to German newspaper Deutsche Welle. The man had become involved in a fight with another asylum seeker, and attacked him with a knife. Police reportedly fired tear gas at the refugee and then shot him six times.