When Hesham fled Syria in early August with his pregnant wife and baby, he was sure all would be well once he got to Germany. Instead the hope has turned to despair after weeks of waiting to be registered at an overcrowded reception center in Berlin.
The 26-year-old former chef is one of the hundreds of migrants who crowd around a small screen at the registration office every day, desperately waiting for their number to come up so they can go inside and get a certificate that is the first step in the asylum process.
Some climb on top of barricades to get a better view while others lie out on the grass surrounded by suitcases and plastic bags which hold their few possessions. When volunteers hand out apples and bananas, scuffles break out.
“I wish I’d stayed in Syria and not come here,” Hesham said through an interpreter. “I dreamed Germany would be better but it’s so bad. We’ve been sleeping in the cold. Now my baby is sick.”
What was once a relatively smooth process for new arrivals has turned into a confusing nightmare for many as cities and towns across the country struggle to cope with a surge of refugees from the Middle East.
A record 800,000 migrants are expected this year. More than 200,000 arrived in September alone.
As the numbers have risen, registering the newcomers in a timely fashion has become virtually impossible.
At the center in Berlin, asylum seekers, some of whom are sleeping outside, say they have been waiting as long as 25 days to register. With winter looming, the same frustrating delays are occurring in other cities across Germany.
“The biggest problem at the moment is the initial registration of people and providing them with the basics – that’s not working well in an awful lot of places,” said Rebecca Kilian-Mason, who runs a project in Munich that informs migrants about the asylum process in Germany.