Types of accommodation



Informationsverbund Asyl und Migration

In general, 3 types of accommodation for asylum seekers can be distinguished:

  • Initial reception centres;

  • Collective accommodation centres;

  • Decentralised accommodation.

Moreover, emergency shelters have also been increasingly used in 2015 and 2016.


Initial reception centres (Aufnahmeeinrichtung)

For a period of up to 6 months after their asylum applications have been filed, asylum seekers are generally obliged to stay in an initial reception centre.1 Furthermore, asylum seekers from “safe countries of origin” are obliged to stay in initial reception centres for the whole duration of their procedures (at least in theory, see section on Regular Procedure: Fast-Track Processing). The Federal States are required to establish and maintain the initial reception centres. Accordingly, there is at least one such centre in each of Germany's 16 Federal States with most Federal States having several initial reception facilities.

As at January 2017, the BAMF website listed 73 branch offices, regional offices and “arrival centres” in 67 locations.2 In most of these places, an initial reception centre is assigned to the branch office of the BAMF.


“Collective accommodation” centres (Gemeinschaftsunterkünfte)

Once the obligation to stay in the initial reception centre ends, asylum seekers should, “as a rule”, be accommodated in “collective accommodation” centres.3 These accommodation centres are usually located within the same Federal State as the initial reception centre to which the asylum seeker was sent for the initial reception period. Asylum seekers are obliged to stay in the municipality to which they have been allocated for the whole duration of their procedure, i.e. including appeal proceedings (see section on Freedom of Movement). The Federal States are entitled by law to organise the distribution and the accommodation of asylum seekers within their territories.4 In many cases, states have referred responsibility for accommodation to municipalities. The responsible authorities can decide at their discretion whether the management of the centres is carried out by the local governments themselves or whether this task is transferred to NGOs or to facility management companies.


Decentralised accommodation

For many municipalities the establishment and maintenance of collective accommodation has often not proven efficient, in particular against the background of decreasing numbers of asylum applications from the mid-1990s onwards, and especially between 2002 and 2007. Accordingly, many collective accommodation centres were closed during that period and municipalities increasingly turned to accommodating asylum seekers in apartments.

For the year 2015, the German Federal Statistical Office records the following numbers for accommodation of “recipients' of benefits under the Asylum Seeker's Benefits Act”. It has to be noted that this law applies not only to asylum seekers, but also to people with a “tolerated stay” (Duldung) and even to certain groups of people who have been granted a temporary residence permit. Among these groups there are many people who have been staying in Germany for several years and therefore are more likely to live in decentralised accommodation than asylum seekers whose application is still pending.


Accommodation of recipients of Asylum Seekers' Benefits for selected Federal States




Number of Recipients

Type of accommodation

Initial reception centres

Collective accommodation

Decentralised accommodation

















Lower Saxony





North Rhine-Westphalia





Germany (total)





















Lower Saxony





North Rhine-Westphalia





Germany (total)





Source: Statistisches Bundesamt, Table Benefits for Asylum Seekers 2014 and 2015, Recipients for Federal States/for type of accommodation. This includes both asylum seekers and people with tolerated stay (Duldung).

Although Section 53 of the Asylum Act provides that asylum seekers “should, as a rule, be housed in collective accommodation” following the initial reception period, the figures show that policies vary considerably between the Federal States.5 In some states, most asylum seekers are indeed living in this type of accommodation. In contrast, there are other Federal States in which the majority of recipients of asylum seekers' benefits are staying in so-called “decentralised accommodation”, so usually in apartments of their own.6 It is remarkable that the situation remained unchanged between 2014 and 2015, despite the high number of new arrivals in 2015.


Emergency shelters

With the massive increase in numbers of newly arriving asylum seekers in 2015, reception capacities often reached or exceeded their limits. Accordingly, a large number of asylum seekers was not accommodated in initial reception centres at all, although the law provides that they have to spend the first phase of the asylum procedure in such a centre. Instead, they were sent to local accommodation centres, in many cases before their asylum application had been registered.

In many places, the authorities could not arrange for sufficient accommodation in the existing accommodation centres or in other forms of accommodation such as hotels/hostels or privately owned apartments. Therefore, various types of emergency shelters were set up. These included gyms, containers, warehouses or office buildings and tents.7

No figures are available on the number of asylum seekers who still had to stay in such shelters in 2016, not least because there is no clear-cut distinction between some temporary accommodation facilities and emergency shelters. Reports suggest that types of accommodation still varied significantly between different regions or municipalities and/or within the same municipality.  

In February 2016, the television programme “Monitor” conducted a survey among municipalities on the challenges they encountered in the reception of asylum seekers. From 373 towns and districts which participated in the survey, only 6% reported that they were “overburdened” with the reception of asylum seekers. 50% of municipalities stated that their facilities were operating at the limits of their capacities, but that they could manage to deal with the number of asylum seekers at the time. 16% of municipalities reported that they would be able to receive more asylum seekers. According to experts interviewed for the television programme, these results suggest that problems with the reception of asylum seekers were often “presented more dramatically in public” than they actually were in many places.8

With the decrease in numbers of newly arriving asylum seekers in 2016, a number of reception facilities were not being used to their full capacities and in some cases they were even reports that newly built reception facilities were not used at all.9 According to some reports, vacant facilities also existed close to overcrowded facilities in the same region. For instance, in Schleswig-Holstein, reception centres managed by the Federal State were only used to one third of their capacity in April 2016, while at the same time many asylum seekers were housed in emergency shelters or hotels in some municipalities in the same Federal State.10

Generally speaking, more problems with accommodation of asylum seekers were reported in the big cities, particularly in Berlin, where about 3,300 asylum seekers were still housed in gyms at the end of 2016, partially because newly erected facilities could not be made available for bureaucratic reasons.11 Also in Berlin, several hundred asylum seekers still lived in the emergency facility located in the hangar of former Tempelhof airport. In February 2017, the regional government announced that this facility was used only to 15% of its maximum capacity and was to be closed in autumn 2017 at the latest.12

  • 1. Section 47 Asylum Act.
  • 2. BAMF, Branch offices / regional offices, available at: http://bit.ly/2kIPxMD.
  • 3. Section 53 Asylum Act.
  • 4. Section 10 Asylum Seekers' Benefits Act.
  • 5. An analysis of these figures cannot be conclusive since it is complicated by apparent inconsistencies in the statistics. For example, it is unlikely that at a given date more than 10,000 asylum seekers were staying in the initial reception centres of the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia. Apparently, other types of state-run accommodation were included in this figure as well.
  • 6. It is possible, though, that some Federal States subsume smaller types of collective accommodation under “decentralised” housing as well.
  • 7. Tagesschau.de, ‘Die Angst vor einem harten Winter’, 3 September 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1KsXpZp.
  • 8. 26% of the municipalities which took part in the survey did not answer this particular question: http://bit.ly/1WKnFzO.
  • 9. For example, in the city of Augsburg, four reception facilities were reported to be empty in January 2017: Augsburger Allgemeine, ‘Leere Flüchtlingsunterkünfte kosten Millionen’, 27 January 2017, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2lJkHmG.
  • 10. shz.de, ‘Leere Erstaufnahmen – Helfer sind frustriert’, 1 April 2016, available in German at: http://bit.ly/1N52Eea.
  • 11. Tageszeitung, ‘Die Turnhallen bleiben belegt’, 18 November 2016, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2ls2l7c.
  • 12. rbb-online.de, ‘Flüchtlinge sollen Tempelhof-Hangars verlassen’, 20 February 2017, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2lk8zrr.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti