Asylum seekers in Germany currently receive less financial support from the state than others on benefits. The constitutional court has ruled this must change.
Asylum seekers must be given more money from the state, according to a ruling of the German constitutional court on Wednesday. As it stands, state payments to asylum seekers are so low that they are forcing people into poverty. The judges ruled that this went against the German constitution.
The constitutional court in Karlsruhe took on the issue after a judge in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia ruled back in February 2010 that state benefits for asylum seekers were "clearly not sufficient to allow people to live a dignified life." He was ruling in a case brought by two refugees, one a Kurdish asylum seeker from Iraq, the other a young girl who has since been given German citizenship.
The level of aid which asylum seekers receive from the state has not changed in the past 19 years. Indeed, the legislation still spoke of the old currency, the deutschmark, even though that was replaced by the euro ten years ago. Asylum seekers are currently paid 360 deutschmarks - around 184 euros ($225) - per month. By contrast, those who receive unemployment benefits (Hartz-IV) receive around 374 euros per month. In addition, the cost of living has risen significantly since the legislation on asylum seekers was drawn up - in the past two decades, the cost of food alone has risen by 25 percent.
Below the breadline
Like others working with asylum seekers, Christian Walther, who works for the city of Leipzig, knows at first hand the problems caused by the low level of state support. He wants to see more money provided to local communal authorities, which, he says, are on the frontline of providing social services, helping people who have fled from their homeland as a result of persecution.
Leipzig, for example, is in the eastern state of Saxony, and Saxony only budgets 4,500 euros a year for every asylum seeker. That's less than 13 euros per day.
"According to the state, all the costs should be covered by that - including care and accommodation," says Walther. But, he says, that doesn't go anything like far enough. Last year the city of Leipzig had to find an additional 3.4 million euros in order to meet the cost of housing its 1,075 asylum seekers and so-called "tolerated" refugees.
"And in comparison to other local authorities in the state of Saxony, the situation for refugees in Leipzig is relatively good," says Juliane Nagel, who sits on the city council for the Left party.
Cockroaches in the kitchen
Most of the asylum seekers are housed in flats rather than in asylum centers - but still, 40 percent live in one of two hostels in the city. One of them is to be closed soon - and not before time. The consequences of years of underfunding are plain to see: the building is dilapidated, with cables hanging over the facade. Inside, the doors don't close properly, the carpets stink, and cockroaches crawl through the kitchens and bathrooms.
At the end of 2011, Saxony carried out a survey to assess the quality and conditions in 31 asylum hostels in Saxony. Only five were given an "acceptable" rating - a low standard in itself - although the survey did find that the staff and social care were generally good.
Author: Jennifer Stange / ji
Editor: Michael Lawton