Around 150 students demonstrated on Monday morning against a local government decision to accommodate 100 refugees in the gymnasium at their high school.
The student body at Palmnicken High School led a march through the town center of Fürstenwalde, located in the Oder-Spree district of Brandenburg, Germany.
The district administration recently announced that up to 100 migrants would be accommodated temporarily on the school’s grounds in the absence of viable alternative accommodation sites, meaning that from the beginning of the new school year, the sports center will be unavailable for lessons, training or working groups.
The school has a current capacity of around 3,000 students, many of whom are demanding a say in the decision to house migrants on the grounds of the educational facility.
“We intend that our position will be represented and that what is important to us — namely our physical education — can be secured,” said student spokeswoman Skadi Jerominek.
The student body was reluctant to engage in a political discussion regarding the wider context of housing migrants, insisting they are not opposed in principle to welcoming new arrivals to the area, but believe accommodating them on school grounds is inappropriate and will hinder the ability of many students to learn and train.
“We don’t want to be brought into any political discussion,” Jerominek said, insisting there are more suitable alternative sites to house newcomers.
Axel Schmook, the principal of Palmnicken High School, told local media that he had only found out about the decision taken by the district administration to house migrants in his school via the press and that he agreed with the student body that other locations should be found.
“Planning for the next school year is now underway. That means we should actually know now if the hall is not available to us, to which other hall the students have to go or be driven, and what then affects the timetable,” he said, as cited by Radio Berlin-Brandenburg.
One possible alternative is an indoor tennis court located in the center of Fürstenwalde, which has previously been used as a migrant accommodation, and the local mayor, Matthias Rudolph, admits his administration is now looking into this as an option.
“We have already used this tennis center as an emergency accommodation for Ukrainian refugees,” he said on Monday. “It shows that there are opportunities that are very likely to be better than the gym,” he added.
Angelika Zarling, head of social affairs and education in the Oder-Spree district, hit back at claims the school’s leadership had not been informed of the decision, insisting the principal was told in advance that the school’s gym would be needed to house migrants until the end of December at the earliest.
She claimed the move was an “emergency solution” and lamented the fact that capacity limits have been stretched in recent times and the town’s social services are saturated.
“We would be happy to check and see whether the tennis hall is suitable for accommodating refugees. Now we have to look again at building law and fire protection to see whether the hall is suitable and large enough,” she added.