Situation of Refugees in Saxony

Accommodation in homes for asylum seekers

In Saxony, more than 12,300 asylum seekers and refugees are currently living on a temporary permit. The majority of them are housed in homes for asylum seekers, of which there are over 60 in Saxony. For the duration of the asylum procedure and the temporary permit, asylum seekers are entitled to approximately 6m² of living space. As there are no rooms that small, several people, as a rule, share a room with each other (three to four people, sometimes even up to six). The kitchens and bathrooms in these homes are likewise used in common.

The current situation in many of the accommodation centers offers no protection of privacy, health, or the well-being of the refugees. People are living in tight spaces with quite different life cycles, differing refugee stories and in part with traumatic experiences. Also, cultural and religious differences and language barriers make the compulsory living together even more difficult. Accommodation in the homes for asylum seekers can, in the long term, lead to psychological problems. The homes are very often situated in very remote areas and journeys to the nearest supermarket or the nearest public authority are often very far. This is not only a financial burden, but also leads to isolating the refugees from public life.

An alternative to collective accommodation is decentralized accommodation in ordinary dwellings. This is already being successfully practiced in a few cities and districts. The refugee councils and PRO ASYL as well as other organisations have for some considerable time been in favor of a decentralized form of accommodation. For the respective communities, accommodation in private rooms/apartments would be significantly more economical than the accommodation in collective housing. The approximate financial guidance level in the homes for asylum seekers lies between € 4.85 and € 9.00 per night per bed, i.e. on average approximately € 160 per month. Currently, accommodation in an apartment is often more cost-effective for families.

Cash and Non-Cash Benefits

Asylum seekers and refugees with a permit receive no social welfare, rather they receive services according to the Asylum Seeker Benefits Act. In a decision on July 18, 2012, the Federal Constitutional Court had declared cash payments for asylum seekers to be unconstitutional because these were inadequate for subsistence and incomprehensible. As a result, the federal government amended the social welfare law for asylum seekers, and beginning March 1, 2015, a single adult person seeking asylum or a person with a suspended deportation order receives € 359.00 per month. The costs of rent and heating are also additionally paid for.

The benefits for asylum applicants include the standard benefits amounting to € 212.00 for a single adult person, which cover the essential needs for food, clothing, health and hygiene care, as well as cash benefits amounting to € 143.00 for an adult person.

Unlike the cash benefits that have to be paid out, the basic services can also be paid in kind. The form of in kind payments can vary: thus there are food packages, store catering, vouchers for certain shops, smart cards, public catering, etc.

The disadvantages of the in kind benefit system are immense: in the food packages that are sent to the asylum seekers, the quality of the food is often inadequate. There are very few fresh fruit or vegetables which are often delivered in an inedible condition. In addition, no consideration is given to food intolerances or cultural or religious requirements in the composition of the packets. Also where food from an on-site store is concerned, the asylum seeker living in a home for asylum seekers only has a limited choice on hand and has to accept the inflated prices. Discrimination also takes place regarding the voucher system or smartcards. Asylum seekers can only go shopping with these vouchers in a few fixed, limited shops. At the end of the month, the unused sum expires; payouts of the remaining money are not possible. Furthermore, so-called luxury goods, such as tobacco and alcohol, may not be purchased with these vouchers

Support through the benefit-in-kind principle is associated with a certain administrative and organizational effort. In practice, the implementation of benefit-in-kind principles means that asylum seekers are sorely limited in their choice of groceries. Moreover, they are forced to buy mainly overpriced groceries and they are not able to benefit from supermarket offers. By in-kind payments instead of cash, the life of people who have come to Germany seeking protection is complicated unnecessarily. It is therefore a case of structural discrimination.

In the course of district reform in 2008 and under increased public pressure, a change took place in Saxony. Apart from the Leipzig district, all communities in Saxony switched over from in-kind benefits to cash benefits. Starting in 2015, the latter community also undertook cash benefits only.

Mandatory residence (Residenzpflicht)

According to the German Asylum Procedure Law, each and every asylum seeker is compelled to live only within a certain area. It compels the asylum seeker to only stay within a fixed area, defined by the relevant authority. Repeated violation of this duty is punishable with imprisonment of up to one year or a fine. It is in fact, thereby, a special penal law for refugees. The “Restrictive Area” means that refugees living in Germany are only allowed to move around freely within limited areas. The Federal Republic of Germany is the one and only country in Europe to enforce this regulation.

The residence requirement is a massive limitation on personal freedom of movement. Spontaneous visits with friends, family members, or an excursion in another city are, outside of the territorial boundary, not possible by legal means. Leaving the county without official authorization is a criminal offence.

Only with a so-called leaving permit (vacation ticket) is it permitted for the asylum seeker to leave the specified area. This permission is applied for mostly well in advance by the asylum seeker; the decision regarding it lies in the judgment of the employees of the aliens registration office. The main ground for refusal is the supposed lack of public interest. Such an interest is difficult to define especially in the case of private visits and allows latitude for an arbitrary treatment by the authorities.

In Saxony, there have been new regulations on the residency requirement since 2011. These new regulations allowed foreigners to travel freely throughout the state with toleration status. Tolerance was excluded for those who were previously convicted in federal territory or who failed to comply with legal obligations to cooperate. Asylum seekers with a residence title for specific purposes are still subject to the obligation to live within a certain area.

Since January 1, 1015, the residency requirement has applied only in the first three months of the stay for people in the asylum procedure or with a temporary permit to stay. However, the residency requirement can still be ordered for such people who have broken the narcotics law and were convicted or when specific measures for terminating a stay are imminent.

Medical Supplies

The Asylum Seekers Benefits Act also regulates medical care. Asylum seekers are not covered by health insurance legally as a rule; the medical care is guaranteed through the social welfare office. Only after four years of residence in Germany can asylum seekers, under certain conditions, claim health care according to the rules of the state health insurance.

Before an asylum seeker may go to a doctor, he or she needs a medical treatment certificate from the social welfare office. This means that case workers of the social welfare office, not a medical specialist, decides about the condition of the sick person.

Benefits for medical care are to be granted by law under the following conditions: in case of acute illness and pain, required medical and dental treatments are guaranteed. Further services for recovery, improvement, or relief from illnesses may be claimed as well as in case of pregnancy and birth. However, this definition has a large scope which can be freely interpreted by authorities.

One example:

An asylum-seeking person suffers stomachaches for a long time. The official in the social welfare office denies the health insurance certificate, because in his/her judgment the requirements for benefits for medical care do not exist. However, an administrator cannot make this judgment. Because the only way to determine if a disease is acute or chronic is through an examination by a physician. Because an administrator without medical qualifications could confuse a life-threatening appendix rupture with harmless flatulence.

Work

In order for asylum seekers to be permitted to work in Germany, they first need a work permit. Until the asylum compromise in the Autumn of 2014, there was a general work ban for the first nine months of residency. Now, a general work ban is only valid in the first three months of residency. Afterwards, asylum seekers and people with suspended deportation orders can be permitted to work. The federal agency for work decides about this in cooperation with the appropriate agency for foreigners. A work permit will only normally be awarded for a specific position; it is not valid generally and accordingly must always be re-applied for.

Even when asylum seekers in Germany find a job, it is still difficult to receive a work permit, if there are “preferred employees”. This is because, in accordance with the preference check, job vacancies and apprenticeships will first be awarded to Germans, EU citizens or foreigners with another status., in accordance with the preference check, Only if no one else is found, the job can be given to an asylum seeker or person with suspended deportation. The preference check is valid after the end of the general work ban for 15 months (before the asylum compromise four years).