Germany: "Like a prison": Kiel University study examines everyday life in refugee shelters during the Corona pandemic


Press release issued by Pro Asylum on 2 September 2021, concerning a study by Kiel University into conditions in refugee shelters during the pandemic.

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"Like a prison": Kiel University study examines everyday life in refugee shelters during the Corona pandemic

During the Corona pandemic, refugee shelters developed in many places into hotspots with a dynamic infection pattern due to spatial confinement and a lack of opportunities for social distancing.

Dr. Nikolai Huke from Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU) is involved in the research project "Endangered Lives. Everyday Life and Protest in Refugee Accommodation in the Wake of the Corona Pandemic". He investigated the question of how this changes the everyday life of asylum seekers.

Results of the project are published in a study edited by PRO ASYL. Interview excerpts reflect the personal experience of those affected. "The interviews I conducted paint a picture of everyday life in refugee shelters during the pandemic that is frightening in many respects," states Dr. Nikolai Huke. "On the one hand, they reveal fundamental problems of the accommodation system: Racism, insufficient medical care, noise pollution, lack of privacy or security violence. On the other hand, they illustrate how the Corona pandemic exacerbated problems in many areas." For example, interviewees described how shared rooms and shared spaces such as dining halls made it difficult for them to protect themselves from infection through social distancing. In many places, there was a lack of masks, soap or disinfectants. "Quarantines lasting several weeks were not only psychologically stressful, but also increased the risk of infection in some cases due to the residents' continued close contact with each other. Social management and authorities were sometimes only accessible to a limited extent."

Experiences of violence and social disinterest

"Many of the people I interviewed felt that their experiences were not being heard in public. They therefore felt a great need to tell about the problems they face in everyday life," Huke continues. "In some cases, they told of extreme stressful experiences in the interviews, which they had hardly ever talked about outside their immediate environment, such as security violence they had experienced on their own bodies. It was important for the interviewees to be able to speak in a language in which they had no inhibitions or difficulties in telling their stories. I therefore conducted the interviews in German, English, French or - with language mediation - in Farsi, depending on the interviewees' mother tongue and knowledge of German. Since it is important to me that the experiences of asylum seekers receive greater public attention, I am very pleased that PRO ASYL has agreed to publish results of the research in the form of this study."

PRO ASYL also welcomes the cooperation with the researcher from Kiel University. "The present study allows those affected to have their say in detail. This is also an important contribution because civil society is denied unhindered access to the initial reception centres and thus a critical look at their internal conditions in some places," the human rights organisation states in the foreword to the study. "The statements of the residents in the study show that the structural conditions in initial reception centres and other mass accommodations are a nasty imposition for the residents and counterproductive for their social participation," emphasises Andrea Kothen from PRO ASYL. "They once again confirm the criticism that we, together with many other organisations, have of the AnKER centres. The camps should be abolished, we need a new admission policy."

What needs to change - recommendations for action

Based on the results of the interviews, the study makes the following recommendations for action:

  • Housing for refugees should have priority over accommodation in collective centres.
  • Access to regular health care in the form of statutory health insurance should be ensured immediately upon arrival in Germany.
  • In order to ensure fair asylum procedures, those affected need sufficient peace and quiet before the hearing, a safe place and independent, biased asylum procedure counselling.
  • In order to ensure protection against violence in the shelters, legally binding and effective protection concepts are necessary.
  • The overarching goal must be to strengthen asylum seekers' rights of self-determination and to ensure humane treatment.

Dr. Nikolai Huke, researcher from the Institute of Social Sciences, conducted 16 problem-centred qualitative interviews with asylum seekers living in refugee accommodation during the first and second waves of the pandemic. The research project focused on the question of which forms of political protest against the accommodation conditions emerge in the course of the Corona pandemic. For this purpose, a media analysis was used to identify shelters where there were publicly visible protests. For these shelters, contact was established with residents for the interviews via the social management or civil society supporters. Due to the pandemic, the interviews were conducted by telephone or video conference.

The study "Does our life mean nothing?", experiences of asylum seekers in refugee shelters during the Corona pandemic in Germany, is available as a PDF on the PRO ASYL website.

Image: Yuri Samoilov, CC BY 2.0

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