Letter from Germany Part 3 – The problem of unaccompanied underage refugees

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 by Christl Stephanblome
Refugee child

Christl Stephanblome - croppedAccording to the newspapers it is to talk about the children and youngsters, not only about those who came with their parents – the youngest was only 10 days old – but also about the 14 to 17 years old ones, who came on their own. Families, sometimes  whole villages collected 6000 Euro to pay the people smugglers. The refugees have to pay back this money as fast as possible, when they have made their way in the new country. Sometimes they have been on the road for months. They are undernourished and traumatized, and in need of special care. These young refugees often don’t have legal papers. It is difficult to find out their age. Therefore they have to undergo medical examination. Some have false legal papers, especially without a correct date of birth, on which depends the permission to stay, only given by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. That takes time, sometimes months.
It is in discussion to make it faster. Those who come from Syria automatically have the right of residence up to the age of maturity, then another permission to stay is needed. Others, especially those, who come from the so called safe countries like Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, are assembled in special locations to be registered, and then sent back. There will be 5000 unaccompanied refugees this year. At the moment,  over 90 % come from the southern part of Germany, especially to Cologne, Aachen, Dortmund, Bielefeld. They arrive daily, sometimes nightly or at weekends, and have to be accommodated in emergency accommodations, which are scarce or occupied, but even a communal bunk will do.
These places are for the first night, then they go to a place for first admission, where they can stay for four weeks, then they are brought to a regular youth facility. These places are in short supply. Standards for the young migrants are 24-hour-care by educators and accomodation in two-bed rooms in small groups, but this can’t always be fulfilled. The refugees are between 14 and 17 years old, more boys than girls, coming from Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Congo, Morocco, and Eritrea. The boys are thought to be strong enough to survive the flight. The girls often leave their families because of fear of being forced into a marriage. They are frequently raped by the people smugglers. Yesterday I read that an 11 years old girl lost her parents.
We know those fates from WWII and we know what that means. For the time being she stays in an orphanage. The Youth Welfare Office tries to find the parents. All these young ones are given into the custody of a guardian. God parents and foster homes are requested. The question of the application for asylum is difficult to answer. Normally the applicant has to prove that he or she has been threatened for political reasons. But as they are so young they get a residence permit according to the regulations of the law of residence. That happens in two thirds of the cases, through the Federal Office of Migration and Refugees. In the meantime: office buildings, barracks, gyms, commercial buildings, containers, but not the chapels on the cemeteries as we had to do last time, are made ready for the refugees. These places are guarded, and all who want to enter are controlled. The refugees should have a quiet time to recover. The Eid al-Adhawas celebrated with migrants who live in emergency accommodation in my town. Clothes are collected. And learning started. The thirst for knowledge and the motivation and commitment are convincing. Solutions for problems, which arise, eg. the fight against boredom, which depresses them them, are often unconventional and convincing. To establish them is not only a question of money, but also a question of the legal conditions. Up to now, the atmosphere is positive.
Christl  Stephanblome is a retired German Gymnasium teacher living in Leverkusen, Germany, near Cologne. She taught in Germany for 35 years and  has traveled the world including several visits to regions of Canada.