When young refugees come to Germany
On arrival in Germany, refugees are immediately placed in a reception centre, where they remain for a minimum of 6 weeks and a maximum of 3 months. Next, the federal administration distributes them to regional accommodation centres, so-called Gemeinschaftsunterkünfte. What these are exactly differs from state to state. Children have a right to accommodation, care and support that takes their wellbeing into consideration, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Children and young people arriving without their parents are looked after by the youth welfare office, the Jugendamt. A legal guardian is appointed who discusses their situation with the aliens registration office and organisations such as charitable institutions and the churches. The question of whether or not to lodge an asylum application is resolved at this point. The youth welfare office is only required and entitled to look after young people as long as they are legally underage.
Examination to determine someone’s age
Doctors are charged with determining whether a young refugee is indeed underage since underage refugees often are unable to provide documental proof. They then have to undergo an age assessment process that varies within the EU countries and also within the federal states in Germany. The process involves a physical examination – in some federal states this includes examining the genital area. This may cause additional trauma not only to those young people whose culture of origin associates a great deal of shame with the genitals.
The entire process is often criticised, firstly because it can only estimate biological maturity and not chronological age, and secondly, the age assessments are said to be inaccurate and often misinterpreted. Many youths are declared of age, causing considerable disadvantages to their future and the course their life might take.
Foreigner nationals wanting to apply for asylum in Germany have to pass an approval process. First, an application for asylum is filed. All asylum applicants aged 14 and over are photographed and fingerprinted. This is to establish whether they may have already stayed in Germany before – possibly under a different name – or whether their asylum application might fall under the jurisdiction of another European country.
The asylum application is then given consideration and the applicant receives a notification, stating what the decision is – there are a number of options. If refugee status is granted, the applicant is given a residence permit for 3 years.
In Germany, foreign children and youths are legally entitled to child and youth welfare services. This means that they can attend children’s day-care facilities or nursery schools, or take part in sports activities provided by youth work initiatives.