Young refugees in Germany are spending months or even years living in temporary accommodation that is “not suitable for children”, research by Unicef has found.
Children said in interviews that their makeshift housing was confined, lacked private spaces, had poor hygiene and that they struggled to get schooling. One girl said: “This is not life.”
Unicef said there was a lack of children’s spaces, with communal areas such as kitchens typically used for adults to play card games and people cramped into small bedrooms.
Campaigners noted that children’s rights were being contravened and said refugees who had sometimes spent years en route to Germany should be treated the same way as native-born youths.
Refugee children talk about “how much they miss opportunities to develop, how much their life has basically been put on the brakes”, said Michael Windfuhr of the German Institute for Human Rights.
He said young people wanted a “normal living situation” with more private space, more contacts with fellow children and easier access to health care in Germany.
More than 240,000 people applied for asylum in Germany last year, with refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey and Iraq accounting for about two thirds. Many more were admitted from Ukraine under temporary EU rules.
About 40 per cent of asylum seekers who have arrived in Germany since the peak year of 2015 have been minors, said Christian Schneider, the head of Unicef Germany.
Around 430,000 children and young people sought asylum last year alone – testing Germany’s ability to house them.
Under pressure from overstretched local authorities, ministers have announced plans to speed up deportations and widen the immigration powers of police.
Many refugees stay in temporary housing for months or even years, said Mr Schneider. There were cases of families being separated or having to put up strangers in their accommodation, worsening the lack of private space.
“From Unicef’s point of view there is one thing they [the housing facilities] are not – suitable for children”, Mr Schneider said.
One Syrian family on the run for a decade had a 10-year-old child who speaks four languages and helped others but “in Germany he now lives in a container behind a fence”, Mr Schneider said.
Unicef interviewed 50 children aged between six and 17 at four accommodation sites in Germany. Some of the youths took pictures of their surroundings.
One boy was quoted as saying: “I would like to finally begin my life”. Another girl said she “can’t take life in this accommodation seriously … you’re simply not living life.”
Mr Schneider said confined conditions, discrimination and difficulties in accessing education meant that “after months and years as a refugee, even here they cannot truly begin a childhood worthy of the name”.
“The reality is that many children and young people spend their important, defining and also short childhood in these places that are not meant or suited for them, after everything that they’ve already endured,” he said.