On Thursday, a charity organization in Essen that hands out food to the needy said that for now, would only serve newcomers if they hold a German passport.
Jörg Sartor, who heads the branch of the Essen Tafel charity, said that 75 percent of the 6,000 users of the service were immigrants, up from 35 percent in 2015. The charity is run mostly by volunteers who parcel up the food which is often the surplus from supermarkets.
Essen Tafel is part of a national charity, Tafel Deutschland, and is one of 930 food banks operating throughout Germany. “Tafel” is German for “table” and recipients must be registered for social welfare in order to be eligible for the food parcels. Essen Tafel is the only one with a policy of this kind, a spokesperson for the umbrella group told local media.
“There is no first- or second-class of people in need.”
Other branches of the foodbank charity distanced themselves from the decision by the Essen branch.
The head of the Berlin Tafel, Sabine Werth, said her branch wasn’t planning to make a similar decision. She posted a statement on the website saying, “Just like all the other food banks in Germany, we signed the guidelines of the national organization. One of them reads: The food banks help all the people that need our help.”
Similar responses came from the Tafel foodbanks in Dusseldorf and Cologne. “We know all about trouble in the queue,” said Dieter Puhl, the head of a city mission in central Berlin. He was referring the statement made by Mr. Sartor, of the Essen charity, that disorderly lines made it harder for older recipients waiting to be served. Mr. Puhl said, “We’ve seen plenty of German guests with bad form, too.”
The head of the national umbrella organization for the Tafel foodbanks, Jochen Brühl, also criticized the decision in Essen. “We can state this very clearly: Need is the priority, the background should never matter,” he told broadcaster ARD in an interview on Friday morning.
Other organizations also chimed in, with the refugee-aid association, Pro Asyl, saying that the decision contravened laws on discrimination. Observers using social media compared the Essen charity’s decision to Nazi campaigns. One German commentator wrote about the dangers of setting one group of needy people against another, and expressed concern about idea that Germans should come first, as was implied by the policy.
Others said the decision was playing to right-wing populists. It “leads to stereotyping and marginalization,” Germany’s minister for family and youth, Katarina Barley, told news media on Friday afternoon.
Mr. Sartor defended his decision: “We want German grandmothers to be able to keep coming to us,” he told a local newspaper, explaining that over the last two years, single mothers and older women had been scared off from the service because of all the young men, speaking different languages, in the queue for food. Mr. Sartor said he had personally seen “a lack of respect for women” among male users. “When we opened the door in the morning there was always pushing and shoving without any thought given to the grandmothers in the line,” he said.
Some German commentators were sympathetic to Mr. Sartor’s position. “Essen Tafel is not a state institution,” wrote journalist Torsten Krauel in an op-ed for the conservative Die Welt newspaper on Friday morning. “They can do what their organization needs to do. And they are not doing this because of xenophobia but in order to take care of those who need their care. They’ve done the right thing.” Mr. Krauel wrote that maybe some of the young migrants seeking the food bank’s aid were caught between living in refugee homes and finding a more permanent residence. Providing help for that interim period is not their responsibility, he noted.
The decision in Essen takes place against tensions which have been high ever since the refugee crisis and an increase in the number of people from the Middle East and North Africa who sought asylum in Germany after fleeing war and poverty. Through 2015, the authorities struggled to register and house many refugees. Even now, many asylum seekers still lack access to jobs and affordable housing.
But crowding can be an issue anywhere, as the head of the Berlin food bank pointed out. The Berlin volunteers addressed this by introducing a different system for standing in line and distributing food parcels. The organization handed out colored markers which corresponded to different times of day when people should come and pick up their food. The head of the Berlin group, Ms. Werth, wrote that this approach worked, because the clients knew it was fair.
Ms. Werth wrote in her statement that at times there had been too many clients at some of the charity’s offices. That lead volunteers to slow or cancel the process as needed. But they didn’t categorize those using the food bank. “At Berlin’s Tafel, there is no first- or second-class of people in need.”
Marie Rövekamp is a reporter in the business section for Handelsblatt’s sister publication, Der Tagesspiegel. This story was adapted for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: email@example.com