Desires for caviar, big cars, criticism of food: The food bank in Weimar has complained about problems with refugees from the Ukraine, thereby sparking a controversial debate. FOCUS online asked food banks all over Germany about their experiences.
Volunteers at the Tafel in Weimar, Thuringia, have complained about the appearance of some refugees from the Ukraine, triggering a controversial debate.
Specifically, they complained about the obvious entitlement of some guests. They would reject fruit and vegetables with small damaged areas, would sometimes drive up in expensive cars and would sometimes pay the usual fee of two euros for a food package with a 100-euro note. Requests for caviar and shrimp also caused displeasure among the helpers who distribute surplus food from supermarkets to poor people.
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Aids and the head of the Weimar Tafel, Marco Modrow, had made the conditions public to the MDR, and FOCUS online also reported on these statements. A discussion then broke out on social media. On the one hand there are users who doubt the need of some refugees and call for better state controls. Others see in the descriptions from Weimar a defamation of people who escaped the Russian war of aggression in the Ukraine.
FOCUS online wanted to know what experiences other food banks – there are around 960 such institutions in Germany – had had with refugees from Ukraine and asked in several cities.
“We also had a strong influx of Ukrainian refugees,” said Steffen Horak from the Munich food bank (800 volunteers, 28 distribution points, 23,000 guests per week) to FOCUS online. Of course, there were one or the other guest among them “who didn’t understand that the peppers with the ‘scratch’ are quite edible. With a corresponding explanation, however, we were able to find a lot of understanding and a lot of gratitude for this essential help”.
Horak continues: “We are also familiar with discussions about SUVs, but it was explained to us very conclusively that these cars were often the last piece of wealth that could be saved from the turmoil of war”. They couldn’t sell the cars in Germany “because they didn’t have the means to pay customs and import sales tax. So keep it and use it.”
Read here: “Not an isolated case” in Weimar – Refugee Ukrainian demands caviar and shrimp at table
According to Horak, the table in Munich does not have problems like in Weimar. The Tafel guests don’t have to pay anything here, which is why they don’t “wave 100 euro bills”. Horak: “Everyone is treated the same, stands in the same queue and receives the same amount of food”. Bullying has never been experienced in Munich, reports the Tafel spokesman, and there is also no question of “mental or physical exhaustion on the part of our helpers.” Overall, the Munich food bank has “overcome well” the major challenges of the past few months.
In the capital, the rush of refugees from Ukraine is particularly large, which is also noticeable at the table. About a third of the approximately 75,000 guests at the Berliner Tafel are Ukrainian war refugees. Due to the enormous influx, eight more temporary stations were set up in addition to the 47 existing distribution points.
Antje Trölsch, managing director of the Berliner Tafel, finds the discussion about the conditions in Weimar strange. “It is very reminiscent of the 2015/2016 debate. Even then it was about which cars refugees drive and which smartphones they have,” she told FOCUS online. In doing so, it is usually forgotten to ask about the true background, instead speculation is spread and prejudices are served. “Just deducing how wealthy the people are from the size of the car is far too short-sighted.”
Of course, there have also been conflicts with people from the Ukraine at the Berliner Tafel food bank, such as nitpicking in the queue or heated exchanges. “But those weren’t threatening or dangerous situations,” said Trölsch. In her opinion, there are sometimes misunderstandings at the issuing offices because the refugees are not familiar with the “table principle”. “They think they go to a supermarket and expect goods like in the supermarket.”
Trölsch considers the discussions about whether all war refugees are in need or not to be inappropriate. “If people come to us with a certificate that they receive social benefits, then of course they also get groceries from us.” The person responsible for the food bank: “It doesn’t matter where the people come from, what skin color they have, who they love or which god they believe in”.
Conditions like in Weimar, she could not confirm for her city, says Julia Bauer, board member of the Hamburger Tafel, to FOCUS online. However, there have been frictions here as well. For example, Ukrainian table guests asked: “Why do I have to take these apples that have been served now?” Others vehemently demanded three peppers, although each guest only got one pepper that day.
“Refugees from Ukraine thought that the food bank was part of the government’s offer of aid and that they were entitled to free, high-quality food. But we had to pull that tooth out very quickly,” says Bauer. It was made very clear to the people that the food was a donation to which no one had a legal right. “Then they became subdued very quickly.”
The main reason for the “demand mentality” widespread among many Ukrainians is the references from job centers and municipal authorities to the boards. “The refugees come to Germany and immediately receive the entire state package of aid,” explains Julia Bauer. “The social welfare offices then say: If you can’t cope with it, just go to the food bank!”
Bauer: “We try as best as we can to compensate for the failure of the state, but we are not a state distribution network and do not receive any state support.” of society” and are not self-service shops. This often led to irritation.
Anna Verres, spokeswoman for the Bundesverband Tafel Deutschland e.V., told FOCUS online that the Tafel are currently “enormously burdened” because they are helping more people than ever before, including refugees from Ukraine. Incidents like the one in Weimar are not the order of the day, but they also occur in other cities. “We noticed that many people from Ukraine do not know the best before date and are afraid that the goods will be spoiled when the date is already reached. We are trying to provide information here and have had many information materials translated into Ukrainian.”
The fact that there are cars with Ukrainian license plates in parking lots is not only the case in Weimar, but is no reason to question the neediness of the people. “Many people had a good standard of living in Ukraine and they made their escape by car. That doesn’t change the fact that their home may now be destroyed, they can’t work in their home country right now and they had to leave everything behind,” says Verres. “I can understand that a big car in front of the board is irritating. But it’s not necessarily a sign that someone isn’t in need.”
The association spokeswoman criticizes that the German authorities have fueled false expectations among many Ukrainians. “For us, it is unacceptable that authorities turned away refugees from Ukraine, especially in the first months of the war, and referred them to the food banks instead. Accordingly, many refugees have a completely wrong idea of what food banks can do.” Like many of her colleagues across Germany, she emphasizes: “We are not part of the welfare state system.”
After MDR and FOCUS reported online about a Ukrainian woman’s “shopping list” for the Weimarer Tafel, which also featured “shrimps” and “red caviar” in addition to cheese, quark and yoghurt, some users questioned the authenticity of the list. Anna Verres, spokeswoman for Tafel Deutschland e.V., confirmed to FOCUS online that the content on the note came from a Ukrainian person.
“In the spring of 2022, the food bank in Weimar, in cooperation with an interpreter, asked people who had fled Ukraine to write down which foods they liked and wanted. The note was created in this context.” This procedure was already used in 2015 with many refugees from Syria. “Communication was very difficult at the time due to language barriers. Also, there were certain foods that were not eaten. In order to simplify the planning here, there was the query.”
In the social networks, the contribution of the MDR was sometimes heavily criticized and described as “sentiment propaganda” against refugees from Ukraine. The author of the article was accused of not being neutral, as she had repeatedly spoken out on social media with articles critical of Ukraine.
At the request of FOCUS online, a spokesman for MDR explained: “The published contribution takes into account a wide range of perspectives and is essentially based on the extensively documented statements by the head of the Weimar Tafel, Marco Modrow.” The statements are in the audio version of the 18- minute interviews with Mr. Modrow.
The spokesman continues: “In view of the very well-documented sources, attacking the author on a personal level is extremely questionable from a journalistic point of view. This deliberately blocks the view of the substantive discussion of the statements made by the employees of the Weimarer Tafel, who are active in social work every day.”