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This German Town Wants to House Refugees in an Old Nazi Camp

Refugee agencies are concerned about the implications of putting vulnerable people on such a historically-fraught site.

The Buchenwald concentration camp (main campus). Photo by flickr user Hadar Naim.

German authorities pissed off a lot of people—as they are wont to do—when they announced plans to move about 20 asylum-seekers to the barracks of a former Nazi camp where 56,000 people died during World War II. The barracks, which were once part of the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp, formerly housed about 700 Polish slave laborers forced to work on railway repairs; since then it’s been used to accomodate diasbled veterans and as an artists’ studio, according to The Telegraph. Still, asylum-seekers are some of society’s most powerless members and are especially vulnerable to exploitation. Refugee agencies and human rights advocates fear that the history of the new accomodations is particularly potent. The Documentation Center for Nazi Forced Labour has been one of the plan’s sharpest critics.


“This is not a normal place, not just anywhere, but a place of exploitation, oppression and unbounded violence," Christine Glauning, director of the Documentation Center, told Spiegel magazine's website.

The German government is currently contending with an overwhelming influx of refugees and asylum-seekers, many of whom are escaping poverty, persecution, and violence in Syria, Afghanistan, and Russia. Recent conflicts in the Middle East and Russia have exacerbated the refugee situation in the European Union. According to the UNHCR, Germany recieves the highest number of asylum-seekers in the EU and among industrialized nations all over the world. Currently it’s housing over 200,000 refugees and almost 162,000 asylum-seekers. Authorities expect that number to rise in the next year, especially as the war in Syria carries on.

Space is limited, and the government is having trouble finding room for all these displaced peoples. Although former Nazi buildings have been repurposed for use today, housing persecuted asylum-seekers in buildings once used to hold slave laborers has some unsavory implications.

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