Every year, German authorities evict some 50,000 foreigners who were denied the right to stay in Germany. Before deportation, refugees caught without valid documents are put in remand. Many of them are women.
The German dream ends behind locked doors for many refugees.
When the prison officer locks the massive door at the detention center in the German city of Neuss, waiting is all that's left to do.
"It`s not easy, six months in prison," said Letifica Anyomum, one of the prisoners. "I did not kill anybody, I didn´t cause any murder, nothing. Just because I want asylum they keep me a long time."
Eighty women from South America, Asia and Africa – among them disturbed and pregnant women as well as girls – share 36 cells. It’s become a center for all the stranded who have to wait behind bars although they haven’t committed any offences. Even those who guard them don't know what will happen to them.
“We are only the executing authority," said Klaus-Peter Schmidt, a prison officer. "Our only task is to keep them in custody until they are being repatriated. What happens in the meantime, we can’t tell. At one point we will get a fax which tells us, this woman is going to be deported.”
Cell No. 23 measures some nine square meters (97 square feet). Only a little light falls through the tiny window onto the bunk bed. Behind a shower curtain is a toilet, on a table next to it is today’s lunch: meat and dumplings – all of it still untouched. The TV is on.
An uncertain future
It’s the uncertainty that is bothering Tony Lovitz most. The 22-year-old came to Germany because she wanted to flee from the civil war raging in her home country Sierra Leone.
"We have so much problem in our country, so much fights, so we run away, came to Deutschland," she said. "The police catch me and said I am illegal. They took me to the prison. You see me - I was very fat before but now because of the stress, thinking, I am so slim now, because of too much stress. The food they bring we don't like, we eat Africa food, they want us to die, I am tired of here."
The women suffer from stomach- and headaches and insomnia. Others smoke to kill at least some of their fears.
Twenty-eight year old Letifica Anyomum came to Germany from Ghana. She has been living here for six months. In a rather agitated manner, she washes up a cup in the sink, dries it – only to wash it once more.
“I came (to) Germany because they want to circumcize me in my village," she said. "I would stay with my parents but they died. My mother gave birth to me when I was very small, my mother died. I was staying with my uncle he also died. Nobody was taking good care of me. The committee member said they want to circumcize me 'cause I have to marry with an old man. And I cannot because of the pain of the knife."
Lured to Germany
African women who want to leave these things behind often fall prey to so-called "facilitators” who lure them to Europe under false pretences. They take their passports and organize their crossing to the European continent. Once they are there they often find it hard to free themselves from the hands of these criminals who often don’t stop short of selling the women into prostitution.
This young woman is still at the beginning of the process as she is filling out her asylum application.
For women like Letifica there is hope that they will at least be tolerated as a refugee for the time being. But others who are not quite as lucky might have to stay in detention for a long time.
Especially in African countries, there are often huge bureaucratic hurdles, so it can take months until the documents for the women’s repatriation have come through. For some, even 18 months are not enough to confirm their identities – either because the women refuse to cooperate or because their respective embassies refuse to issue new documents. In those cases, the women are set free. But those who do receive documents have to leave Germany after months of detention.