Berlin Pushes to Turn Tempelhof Airport Into Germany's Largest Refugee Shelter

The municipality wants to build new shelters on parts of the 380 hectare airfield, bringing the number of refugees the location can host to 7,000.

Cabins are set up inside Hanger 4 of the former airport Tempelhof to be used as a temporary emergency shelter for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, Berlin, Germany, December 9, 2015.
AP

Germany's iconic Tempelhof airport - once the capital’s lifeline during the Berlin Blockade - could become the country's largest refugee hostel under controversial plans being debated at a town hall meeting in the capital on Thursday.

The Berlin municipality wants to build new shelters on parts of the 380 hectare airfield, bringing the number of refugees the location can host to 7,000. This would make it the largest shelter in Germany, which recorded 1.1 million migrant and refugee arrivals in 2015.

Over 2,000 refugees are currently being housed in the airport's hangars, but the Lageso agency responsible for registering refugees in the capital is struggling to keep abreast of hundreds of new arrivals each day in the face of below-zero temperatures.

Migrant children play with equipment provided at a shelter for migrants inside a hangar of the former Tempelhof airport, Berlin, Germany, December 9, 2015.
Reuters

Local politicians and residents are up in arms about the plans, which they say defy a referendum held in 2014 that stopped the field's green space from being developed.

Though city officials insist the refugee accommodation would only remain for a period of three years, critics argue that softening or reversing the law keeping Tempelhof development-free would enable developers to get their way in the long term.

During the Cold War, Tempelhof airport became a lifeline for West Berliners isolated during the Berlin Blockade by the Soviet Union. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the space has been used as a festival and fashion show venue, and as a film set for the Hunger Games.