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Asylum seeker Justus in Augsburg hostel
Asylum seekers often live below the poverty line in GermanyImage: DW/Anila Shuka

Asylum seekers strike

December 17, 2010

Most asylum seekers in Germany live below the poverty line, with around half of them housed in overcrowded hostels. In Bavaria, asylum seekers are on hunger strike to highlight the conditions they have to live in.


Twice a week asylum seekers in a hostel in the southern German city of Augsburg get groceries delivered to their door, based on a list they have to hand in beforehand. But most of the residents don't speak enough German, so they don't really know what they are ordering. And often the food is past the sell-by-date.

"It's now December and this expired in November," 31-year-old Justus says and places a tub of yogurt on the table.

The Nigerian's room is on the ground floor, the beds are very close together, saucepans are strewn across the floor, food is scattered on the window sill and on the table, because there are no cabinets to put them in.

A toilet in asylum seekers' hostel
The facilities are often substandard in refugee hostelsImage: DW/Anila Shuka

He shares the room with four fellow Nigerians. The lack of privacy is a huge problem.

"The door is always open, a key would cost 10 euros ($13) and we don't have that money," Justus said.

As asylum seekers are not allowed to work in their first year and do not have the right to attend a German language course as opposed to recognized refugees, the future looks pretty bleak.

Based on a quota system they end up somewhere in Germany, and if they want to leave their accommodation for a short visit to relatives who were placed in a different town or even federal state, they have to get a permit first or they will be fined.

Hunger strike

Justus and the other asylum seekers get 40 euros a month each. "But the ticket to the welfare office is 2.40 euros each way, sometimes we have to travel back and forth to get translators and have nothing left at the end of the month," he said.

A few weeks ago Justus and 200 fellow asylum seekers went on a hunger strike, but gave up after two weeks. Some, like Samuel, continued the protest by refusing to collect their groceries.

The 21-year-old Nigerian has lived in the Augsburg hostel for two years. He hoped to highlight the conditions asylum seekers live in.

"Most people are not aware of the problems we have here, I don't think. People think we have a better life here," he says pointing at the grubby toilets and rusty doors. "But this is not a better life at all."

Not forced to stay

Bavarian Social Welfare Minister Christine Harderthauer has no sympathy with people like Samuel and Justus.

Christine Harderthauer
Harderthauer insists the asylum seekers are not forced to stayImage: DW/Anila Shuka

"No one is forcing them to stay," she told Deutsche Welle, explaining that most of the more than 8,000 hostel residents in the state of Bavaria are asylum seekers fighting extradition.

"They can go back to their home country anytime they like," she said.

In reality, they often cannot be sent back because they do not have the necessary paperwork, so they are forced to stay in these temporary hostels. And conditions are particularly bad in Bavaria.

"It's a nationwide problem, but conditions for refugees are definitely bad in Bavaria," Hans-Georg Ebberl from the refugee organization Caravan Munich told Deutsche Welle.

Legislation needs updating

The legal basis for the benefits asylum seekers get has not been updated since being introduced in 1993, and is also applied differently in each of the German states. But, for the most part, asylum seekers get less than residents on benefits.

"The payments have not been increased in the last 19 years," Ulla Jelpke, an MP for the Left party said. "They only get two-thirds of what legal residents get in benefits, so it pushes them below the poverty line."

Asylum seeker Samuel
Samuel tries to improve his German to pass the timeImage: DW/Anila Shuka

Meanwhile, the government has confirmed that the payment rates for asylum seekers are unconstitutional and has placed them under review.

But even if people like Samuel and Justus get more money, it doesn't change the fact that they are not wanted in Germany, no matter how much they try to integrate.

But Samuel is not deterred. He has just trained as a geriatric nurse and he also spends a lot of time at the local library to improve his German.

"I want to do something useful. I can't sit around all day doing nothing, it would drive me round the bend," he says and sets out on his daily trip through a snow-clad Augbsurg.

Author: Anila Shuka, Augsburg (ng/sst)
Editor: Rob Turner

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