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IMMIGRATION German refugee centres unsuitable for children, says UNICEF

German refugee centre

September 2023: Thousands of children who have fled to Germany with their families or alone suffer from often miserable conditions in German refugee centres. The young people complain about a lack of privacy, they long for proper schooling or sport and describe the hygienic conditions as often disgusting.

A recent study by UNICEF Germany and the German Institute for Human Rights judged the accommodation offered to refugees in Germany to be unsuitable for children. Nevertheless, thousands of refugee children and young people spend many months or even years there. “This severely restricts their rights and means that they are unable to develop their potential”, the study concludes.

The young refugees find the cramped living conditions stressful and long for more privacy. They describe poor hygiene in shared kitchens and bathrooms. They also wish for more opportunities to play and do sport. In addition, some children and young people reported incidents of violence and discrimination as well as considerable difficulties in accessing psychological care and education. Many also wish for more social contacts outside the refugee centres.

Christian Schneider, Executive Director of UNICEF Germany, said that many of the children had dangerous journeys behind them. "Every single one of these children needs the chance of a childhood worthy of its name and a place where they can recuperate from their ordeals.”

Generally, when discussing the plight of refugees, the focus is on disputes over funding or the burden on local authorities, Christian Schneider explained. "With the study, UNICEF attempted to portray the situation through the eyes of juvenile refugees.” The authors admit that the study is not representative. Fifty children and adolescents, aged between six and 17, were interviewed at four locations in different parts of Germany. Some of the refugee homes were in rural areas, others in cities. The size of the accommodation varied from very large centres with almost a thousand occupants to smaller ones with less than one hundred refugees.

Children and young people found it particularly stressful when accommodation was shared between several families or when family members were housed separately. One 17-year-old reported that she had lived with an unknown family for three months while her mother was also put up with strangers.

"According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, refugee children and adolescents are entitled to the same protection and support as all children living in the country. However, for years, their right to education, health or privacy has been severely restricted. Germany must urgently fulfil its human rights obligations," demanded Michael Windfuhr, Deputy Director of the German Institute for Human Rights.

In 2022, of the approximately 218,000 people seeking asylum in Germany, 81,232 were children and adolescents (37 per cent). In addition, more than one million people seeking protection from the war in Ukraine were registered, of whom around 347,000 were children and adolescents under the age of 18 (32 per cent). Accordingly, a total of around 430,000 children and young people under the age of 18 arrived in Germany in 2022.

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