German food bank draws fire over move to stop accepting new migrant clients

BERLIN (Reuters) - A food bank in Germany’s Essen has temporarily stopped accepting new migrant customers saying it hopes more German “grandmothers and young single mothers” will come for food supplies, in a move that has drawn widespread criticism.

The decision, which took effect in January but was only made public this week, was rejected by the food bank’s own founder and others, and set off a media storm, including stories in papers such as the mass-circulation daily Bild.

Joerg Sartor, who heads the Essen branch of the Germany-wide “Tafel” group, said volunteers had noticed that some German clients had stopped coming as the percentage of migrants swelled.

Migrants make up 23 percent of the city’s population but account for about 75 percent of the food bank’s 6,000 users, up from 35 to 40 percent before Germany took in waves of new arrivals in 2015 and 2016, he said.

“We always have significantly more foreigners as clients than their representation in the community,” Sartor told Reuters TV. “But when we reached 75 percent we kept asking, why are certain Germany people not coming anymore - the grandmothers, the young single mothers.”

The group implemented new rules requiring new clients to show a German identification card and documents showing they qualified for social benefits.

Sartor insisted the decision was temporary and could be revisited in two months. He said some 15 to 16 migrant families had been turned away at recent sessions without complaints.

But Sabine Werth, head of the nationwide Tafel group, said that while no-one had a specific right to receive food from any branch, it was wrong to exclude any particular group.

Ralf Rosenbrock, who heads the German Equal Welfare Association, another charitable organization, was also critical.

“The volunteer Tafel group in Essen is clearly overwhelmed by growing demand, but you can’t solve that by discriminating along ethnic lines,” he told Reuters TV.

He said the federal government was to blame for policies that left many in poverty and lacking food.

The Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported that many older German clients had felt uncomfortable coming to the food bank given the large number of migrants, including many young single men.

“When we opened the door in the morning, there was a lot of pushing and shoving without any regard to the granny in the line,” the paper quoted Sartor as saying.

Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Hugh Lawson