300,000 SIM cards issued to refugees from Ukraine, challenges in the stores and an incredible willingness to help: Peter Meier van Esch, Head of Ukraine Task Force at Telekom Deutschland, explains in an interview how Telekom is supporting those affected.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Telekom quickly started to help the refugees. For us as a telecommunications company, the focus here is of course on ensuring that people can stay in touch with each other. Mr. Meier van Esch, what does that mean?
In view of the unimaginable and oppressive suffering, it was immediately clear to us that we had to provide concrete support here. A few days after the war began, we made free calls to Ukraine possible. From landlines, cell phones, and shortly thereafter from public phones as well. We also set roaming costs for our customers in Ukraine to zero. In addition, we support aid organizations by providing WLAN in homes for refugees, setting up call centers, or through our donation to the German Red Cross. We also issue free SIM cards to refugees from Ukraine. The cards are unlimited for telephony and data connections.
How is the help received? What are your experiences?
The need is enormous. We are experiencing the largest flight since the Second World War in Europe. Tens of thousands of refugees are arriving in Germany alone every day. The demand for the free SIM cards is huge and massively exceeds our expectations. Telekom in Germany, for example, has now issued almost 300,000 cards. That is roughly as many cards as our subsidiaries with a border to Ukraine have activated together. There, the cards are mostly issued directly at the border. In Germany, the majority - almost 90 percent - goes through our stores. We normally issue 30,000 cards in a month here. Now, ten times that amount in two weeks. This also shows that we have long since reached our limits in our stores and will have to adapt the process.
What is the actual situation in the stores?
All my colleagues in the stores are enormously motivated. We have many employees who voluntarily work extra shifts. This is because we are seeing long lines in front of the stores more and more often. But at the same time, normal business continues. Customers come to the stores because they have questions or need advice. They want to buy new equipment or sign a new contract. We want to and have to satisfy these needs. Ultimately, this is how we finance our help for refugees. It can be tearing us apart, because our colleagues want to meet all the demands, but that's not always possible. I also ask for your understanding when, for example, we would rather give four families a SIM card than four cards to just one family.
What does that mean for the next few weeks?
We are thinking about how we can find a good balance. To issue a card, we have to take the person's personal details. That is required by law and takes time. That's why we have set up central points of contact in the metropolitan areas to replace the issuing of cards in the stores. We have currently set up 18 such issuing points at our Sales & Service locations. We want to increase this number to 50 in the coming weeks and thus also significantly reduce the waiting time for refugees. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the hundreds of colleagues who are working here in their spare time. In parallel, we want to significantly increase the distribution quantities via the many local aid organizations. The stores will only issue cards in exceptional cases.
How do you rate the aid so far?
I think the solidarity with the refugees and the wave of willingness to help is great! But I also ask for your understanding when we reach our limits at times. We are doing everything we can to ensure that people can stay in contact with their families, relatives and friends. Everyone can help with this: The private hosts, who can provide their landline, WLAN and cell phone. The aid organizations that help with free Wi-Fi in the refugee accommodations. The states and municipalities, and also our competitors. In a crisis like this, everyone has to pull together.
Support for Ukraine
Deutsche Telekom is appalled by the Russian incursion into Ukraine. Our solidarity is with the people in Ukraine. This is how we support.