After uproar, German town warms to refugees who took over church
By Tina Bellon
OBERHAUSEN, Germany (Reuters) - When Daniela Handwerk looked out of her window earlier this month and saw the church across the street being emptied out and turned into a refugee shelter, she panicked - and she was not alone.
As news of the plan to house 50 refugees in the church and suspend Sunday services spread through this community on the outskirts of Oberhausen, in the Ruhr valley, angry residents pressed church and city officials to reconsider.
Some worried about safety, others about real estate values and, at a raucous meeting of locals held in the church shortly before the refugees arrived, one man complained that his new Mercedes might get scratched.
But nearly a month on, the uproar, played up at the start in the German media, has died down and residents are beginning to warm to the refugees, including 20 children, who are camped out in the ochre-colored brick church built in the early 20th century.
"Initially, there was fear among the neighbors and I don't exclude myself," said Handwerk. "I have two small children and of course I was worried about what was going to happen here."
Now she is part of a local support group that counts roughly 100 volunteers. They teach German, assist with bureaucratic hurdles and play with the refugee children.
The Protestant church, surrounded by pointy-roofed stone buildings that were built to house miners, is the first in Germany to have been set aside for refugees since they began streaming into the country by the thousands in late summer.
Germany expects about 1 million migrants to arrive this year, far more than any other European country. German politicians are under intense pressure to stem the flow as local communities complain that they are being overwhelmed. Continued...