UNICEF Germany has released a report criticizing the conditions faced by refugee children within the country. Medical care, education, and housing provision are singled out as being exceptionally inadequate.
One in three asylum seekers coming to Germany are children or teenagers, according to a UNICEF report published on Tuesday. The organization reported that 65,000 minors in Germany were facing uncertain legal status, and receiving inadequate government support. Refugee children's treatment in Germany fell below the standards prescribed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the report said.
The comprehensive report on the situation of refugee children and their families was the first of its kind commissioned by UNICEF Germany in 10 years. The Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees (Bundesfachverband Unbegleitete Minderjährige Flüchtlinge, or B-UMF) was in charge of carrying out the study, titled 'Children first and foremost - refugee children in Germany'.
The study was presented on Tuesday in Berlin at a press conference led by Thomas Berthold, the paper's author; Christoph Strässer, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid; and Anne Lütkes, a board member of UNICEF Germany. "Above all, refugee children are children. They have lost their homes and are particularly in need of support," Lütkes said.
Basic services lacking
The report heavily criticizes refugee accomodations. Child and adolescent asylum seekers often live in crowded multi-family housing with little privacy, sometimes for years. They are crammed in with strangers, and intra-family conflict is almost never without an audience. Those going through puberty suffer particularly under these conditions.
Furthermore, the study found that bureaucratic hurdles hinder access to proper medical care and education. Medical intervention is only allowed in cases of acute illness and pain, ignoring the fact that most refugee children have fled traumatic circumstances and are often in dire need of counseling or other medical services.
Proper nutrition is also a concern. Municipalities are allowed to give refugees food packets instead of letting them select what they want. Therefore it is not always possible for children to get the nutrients they need. The law also allows municipalities to level sanctions which reduce services to a minimum. The report said that these sanctions hit children the hardest.
As for education, there are relatively few places in schools open to refugee children. Their living conditions offer little opportunity to learn German, and what language courses are offered remain insufficient. These problems are compounded by the fact that aid organizations for children and teenagers do not concern themselves with refugees.
"I simply want to live here"
The report gave the example of Ruslan, a 13 year-old boy from Chechnya. His mother brought him, along with his two younger siblings, to Germany via Poland to escape the constant military conflicts in Chechnya and kidnapping threats from their father. At the German border Ruslan was forced to undress for the guards, submit to a full-body search, and was brought into the city without his mother.
"I simply want to live here, to be able to stay here," Ruslan, who attends a nearby school and has made friends in the area, told UNICEF. But the chances are slim, and a deportation to Poland seems likely; EU rules stipulate that asylum seekers must apply to stay in the first member state where they set foot.
After fleeing violent conditions, the family continues to live in perpetual uncertainty, and fear they will not be safe if they are forced to return to Poland.
Looking towards the future
The report's conclusion offered a number of recommendations, highlighting the fact that child asylum seekers are first and foremost children, children who have grown up in difficult conditions and who need the particular care that these situations require. Legal proceedings must be aligned to the needs of children, and those involved must be correspondingly trained. Children must have access to comprehensive medical care, education, and social support. Lastly, the report said that incoming refugees must be adequately informed about existing services.
With the number of refugees coming to Germany on the rise, creating a sufficient infrastructure is more important than ever.