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20 May 2020 – Germany

Officials in Protective Equipment at the St. Augustin Refugee Home, (M. Kusch, DPA,
Officials in Protective Equipment at the St. Augustin Refugee Home, (M. Kusch, DPA, "Coronavirus Outbreak Hits Refugee Home in Germany," DW, 18 May 2020,

In response to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, which has been sent to all national contact points of the European Migration Network, Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) repeated its standard response to questions concerning immigration detention in the country: that all such queries must be forwarded to state (Land) authorities. They wrote (on 13 May): “In accordance with its state and constitutional structure, the individual federal states are responsible for the management of detention facilities in Germany. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees as a federal authority can therefore not answer questions in this regard. I would therefore encourage you to consult the competent authorities at the state („Länder“) level.”

Over many years, the GDP has repeatedly received responses like this one to queries and official information requests that we have sent to German authorities. However, given the unprecedented nature of the Covid19 threat to detainees, the GDP considered it relevant to address the survey to BAMF as they are the EMN contact point in the country. Thus, we sent a follow up message (on 14 may) to the BAMF contact point, asking: “Would it be accurate for us to interpret your response as indicating that the German EMN focal point is unaware of what is happening in immigration detention centres in the Länder during the Covid-19 crisis? We would very much appreciate it if you could confirm this for us so that we can accurately report this situation to our readers.” As of 20 May, the GDP had yet to receive a response to this query.

As of 20 May, Germany had recorded 177,827 cases of Covid-19 and 8,193 deaths related to the disease. On 15 April, it was reported that within five days, the number of Covid-19 cases within the Ellwangen reception centre for refugees and asylum seekers had increased from seven to 251. None of the residents of the centre (606 people from 26 nations) are believed to be in a critical condition, although one person was transferred to hospital. Despite being under lockdown since 5 April and authorities stating they have tested new arrivals for Covid-19 since March, residents have complained about the crowded conditions, shared facilities and a lack of protective equipment and disinfectant. One of the residents of the centre said: “we stayed in the same building and flat as people who had been tested positive for two days. We used the same kitchens and had meals with them. Because of this neglect, we will also get corona.” The refugee council for the state of Baden-Wurttemberg expressed concern on 15 April regarding these reports from inside the Ellwangen facility and called on states across Germany to reduce cramped conditions within migrant centres. In Freiburg, 30 refugees were moved from a reception centre to hotels or hostels that had rooms standing empty during the lockdown.

On 18 May, it was reported that at least 70 people tested positive for Covid-19 out of the 300 tested at a refugee centre outside the city of Bonn. Green Party politician Horst Becker said that they had “repeatedly called for blanket testing in these homes. Now we can see that this is happening far too late.” Outbreaks have also been reported at other refugee homes in Bonn, Berlin and other areas of Germany.

On 11 May, a Court ruled that protections against Covid-19 at a refugee centre in the town of Rheine were “inadequate.” A pregnant woman and her husband living at the facility will no longer be required to live there. The couple raised numerous health concerns arguing it was impossible to implement social distancing rules inside the cramped facility. The Court stated that the local authorities were unable to disprove the couple’s claims, leading the court to assume the “hygienic conditions were inadequate in this area.”

According to figures released by the German government in response to an inquiry by the Left party (Die Linke), 4,099 people were deported from Germany between January and March of this year, a drop of 27 percent in comparison to last year’s figure of 5,613 for the same period. Due to the pandemic, most chartered deportation flights scheduled for March were cancelled and countries of origin denied entry or suspended air traffic altogether. Yet, the Interior Ministry had rejected implementing a general ban on deportations in light of the pandemic, a decision criticised by Ulla Jelpke: “In many countries of origin and transit countries, refugees not only face persecution, war and a lack of perspective, there are also no functioning health systems in place.” On the other hand, in February, Dublin transfers to Italy were suspended and at the end of March, the German government suspended Dublin transfers to other EU member states, plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein “until further notice” but that deportations to third countries could still take place.