Refugee camps in NRW and the coronavirus

Tightness, isolation and poor infrastructure make you sick. Not only, but especially during a pandemic.

Anyone who submits an application for asylum in Germany will not be punished with camp detention for less than six months. In NRW it is sometimes up to two years. This is provided for in the phased plan of the state government.From this regulation, which is intended to relieve the municipalities and facilitate deportations, but above all to deter them, the state government does not deviate even during the corona pandemic.

While crowds of people everywhere else are to be avoided, six people in collective accommodation have to share a bedroom and hundreds of other showers and dining rooms. As might be expected, many became infected under these conditions. At the height of the second wave, practically half of all state accommodations in NRW alone were under quarantine.

The situation was exacerbated at the beginning of the pandemic by both poor communication and a lack of infrastructure. Almost nowhere were there protective masks, almost everywhere too little disinfectant. The state government in NRW tried to accommodate particularly vulnerable people in youth hostels more safely due to age or pre-existing conditions and thus to equalize the occupancy overall. On the other hand, transfers to municipalities were suspended until June 2020, so that the regular facilities became fuller rather than emptier.
An Iranian refugee reported that although the meal times in his camp were extended so that not everyone was sitting in the canteen at once, at the same time there was only stable Wi-Fi in a single room in the facility, so that all residents were snubbing there when they wanted to find out about COVID-19 or know how their relatives and friends were doing. 

Onur Şahin, who himself contracted coronavirus during the second wave, reports on the question of whether the situation in his refugee shelter in Kassel has changed in the second wave:

“Nothing has changed in micromanagement. They have only hung pieces of paper on the walls: keep your distance, cover your mask, nose and mouth. And wash hands. That was the only measure. They had no structured plans for the various camps. When there was a corona case in October, they didn’t tell us anything about it.”

And Mariama Jatta remembers:

” When Corona started, they announced in the city: “Okay, there is this new regulation in Germany that only a few people are allowed to come together. If there are more, you have to come from the same household.” I thought to myself, “Okay, this law was made, and they completely forgot about us.” You have not considered at all that this is a budget of 700 people. Because this is a budget. We share the kitchen, we share the bathroom, we have contact, the children play together. And no precautions have been taken. We had no disinfectants, no information. We weren’t properly informed about the Corona rules and anything else. There was no communication whatsoever.”

Quotes from: Endangered life. Everyday life and protest in refugee shelters during the corona pandemic

Also in the vaccination campaign, refugee residents of concentration camps in NRW run the risk of getting out of sight and out of mind: Although they are listed in the prioritization group 2 of the vaccination ordinance, the state government of NRW had not even managed to agree on a concept for the information and vaccination of the residentsby April 2021. 

It was only through public pressure that the relevant ministries started to move the matter. But even at the end of May, very few residents of state accommodation received a vaccination offer, let alone full vaccination protection. 

The isolation of the residents has been significantly exacerbated by the corona pandemic: the visit of volunteers or friends to the facility is prohibited, and in the event of quarantine, it is no longer possible for those affected to leave the premises. Even in “normal” times, the situation is characterized by massive isolation: school attendance for children, training to learn the language, get to know friends, find work, start therapy, arrive and come to rest…. everything that would actually be urgently needed and important after an often traumatic escape is not possible from the camp or almost not. 

At the same time, deportations are repeatedly taking place from the camps, which were also never interrupted during the pandemic. For all other residents and especially for children, witnessing early morning raids and deportations is an enormous stress. Many suffer from insomnia and develop psychological problems. 

We are therefore of the opinion that the obligation to camp refugees should be abolished. Collective accommodation for refugees can only be a place to stay in the first few weeks for those who otherwise have no accommodation. However, the purpose of camps beyond this first accommodation is solely to simplify the administration and control of people, to simplify deportation measures and to provide deterrence. This must not be a reason to force people in isolation and in sickening and dangerous conditions to rob them of months and years of their lives in which they cannot build a future for themselves.

If, at the end of the day, mentally worn-out people come to the communities, no one is helped.