Access to pre-removal detention centres
Section 62a of the Residence Act states: ‘Upon application, staff of relevant support and assistance organisations shall be permitted to visit detainees awaiting removal if the latter so request.’ Access of NGOs to detention centres varies in practice (see below).
In addition, access was hampered by restrictions related to Covid-19 throughout 2020 and 2021. By way of example, the detention facility in Darmstadt-Eberstadt (Hesse) still allowed for only one visitor until the autumn of 2022 (see also below). In Bavaria, Covid-related restrictions in detention facilities were lifted as of 26 May 2022.
The Refugee Council of Baden-Württemberg compiled the following information on counselling services in some facilities:
- Ingelheim, Rhineland-Palatinate: An ecumenical counselling centre has its own office in the facility with regular opening hours;
- Hannover-Langenhagen, Lower Saxony: The Refugee Council of Lower Saxony offers advice regularly in a conference room in the facility.
- Eichstätt, Bavaria and Erding, Bavaria: The Jesuit Refugee Service is offering consultation services regularly either in common rooms or in the rooms of the social services in the facility.
An overview of existing detention facilities and support services is also available on the website of the activist group ‘No Border Assembly’. In contrast to the mentioned examples, the facility at Pforzheim, Baden-Würtemberg, does not provide priests and other persons offering advice with a separate room. In August 2022 the inadequate conditions for chaplaincy were again highlighted by chaplains and priests. For example, there is still no extra room for pastoral care. Conversations take place in sterile visiting rooms. In addition, no church services can take place and there is no space for worship. Finally, unlike in normal prisons, priests are not allowed to work internally in the prison.  According to the catholic and the protestant priest working with detainees and imprisoned people in Pforzheim, this makes contact with detainees difficult in practice, especially since detainees are not informed adequately about the possibility to get in contact with them. The regional government claimed that there was no separate room for ‘capacity reasons’ and that this was common practice in detention centres. This statement was refuted by the Refugee Council based on the information provided above.
Büren, North Rhine-Westphalia: The support group ‘Hilfe für Menschen in Abschiebehaft Büren’ reported in January 2018 that the general access to the detention centre, as well as the access to certain particular detainees, was ‘massively impeded’ by the authorities. The group reiterated its criticism in a statement to a parliamentary committee in November 2018. The group usually visits the detention centre on a weekly basis, but since March 2020 support has been provided via telephone only according to the group’s website due to restrictions on visits which make adequate support and counselling impossible. The rules only allow three members of the group to visit and limit visiting times. This limitation, as well as rules requiring 4 metres of distance between detainees and visitors, also applied to other visits as of August 2020.
Darmstadt-Eberstadt, Hesse: According to the law which sets out basic principles for the facility, individuals are not allowed to use mobile phones with a camera function but should be allowed to make phone calls, receive and send letters, read books and papers, watch TV and listen to radio. However, they have to pay for these services themselves if costs arise. Visitors are allowed during visiting hours for a maximum of one hour, while lawyers and consular representatives may visit at all times. The local activist and visitors group ‘Support PiA’ provides support through private visits and via telephone. In addition, there is one person offering external counselling for 10 hours per week. However, access for visitors was restricted during the outbreak of Covid-19. Until autumn 2022, only one person was allowed to visit at a time with the exception of family members and translators, despite protective measures against Covid-19 being in place (such as the requirement to show proof of vaccination or recovery and to wear a mask). In addition, practical difficulties for family and civil society visits were reported by a local activist visitors group in 2021, such as denial of access even when appointments were made.
Hof, Bavaria: Detainees have a right to free worldwide phone calls of up to 30 minutes a day with a maximum of 10 persons and to a video phone service ‘comparable to Skype’. Visits are limited to maximum 60 minutes, but the number of visits per detainee is not limited. A maximum of three persons can visit at the same time for each detainee. Visitors must respect distancing rules to prevent Covid-19 transmission, but no masks are required as of January 2023. The Jesuit Refugee Service, the association ‘Support for persons in detention Hof’ and the Refugee Law Clinic Regensburg provide counselling and support to detainees, but the government does not state how this is organised in practice.
Eichstätt, Bavaria: Amnesty International volunteers and the Jesuit Refugee Service visit the detention centre. Detainees are informed when the NGOs are present in the facility through announcements through the intercom. Moreover, every person is given a mobile phone without camera upon arrival, and has an allowance of 30 minutes per day for calls with numbers notified to the management of the centre. Calls with lawyers are exempted from the 30-minute rule.
Glückstadt, Schleswig-Holstein: Access for visitors and legal representatives is possible in the detention facility between 8 am and 7 pm, except for the lunch break hours (between 12 pm and 2 pm).
A support and visit group was formed in September 2021; in addition the Refugee Council Schleswig-Holstein provides counselling in the detention facility.
Access to airport detention facilities
Access to airport detention facilities is also regulated by the relevant Federal State and is often difficult due to their location. At the ‘initial reception centre’ (Erstaufnahmeeinrichtung) of Frankfurt/Main Airport, for example, the centre is located in a restricted area of the airport cargo. The Church Refugee Service (Kirchlicher Flüchtlingsdienst am Flughafen) run by Diakonie is present in the facility and provides psychosocial assistance to asylum seekers in the airport procedure, as well as reaching out to lawyers depending on available capacity. Access to other NGOs remains difficult, however.
At the ‘combined transit and detention facility’ (Kombinierte Transit- und Abschiebungshafteinrichtung of Munich Airport, the Church Service (Kirchliche Dienste) has access but no permanent presence on the premises; staff of the service travel thereto from the airport terminal when necessary.
 Community for All, ‘Knastreport’, Newsletter Volume 2, April 2021,available in German at https://bit.ly/3iGnrgu and information provided by the local activist and assistance group ‘Support PiA – Hilfe für Personen in Abschiebehaft’, 13 February 2023.
 Flüchtlingsrat Baden-Würtemberg, Misstände in der Abschiebehaft werden geleugnet, Stellungnahme des Flüchtlingsrats Baden-Württemberg zur Berichterstattung über die Abschiebehaft Pforzheim, 17 May 2019, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3dVHgfF.
 Hilfe für Menschen in Abschiebehaft Büren, ‘Stellungnahme zur Anhörung zum Abschiebungshaftvollzugsgesetz’, 7 November 2018, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2UmjGiG.
 100-jahre-aschiebehaft.de, ‘Erinnern an Rachid Sbaai – Mahnwache 30.08. am Abschiebegefängnis Büren’, Press statement of ‘Hilfe für Menschen in Abschiebehaft Büren’, 28 August 2020, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3NrZyaT.
 Official Gazette for the Federal State of Hesse, Gesetz über den Vollzug ausländerrechtlicher Freiheitsentziehungsmaßnahmen(VaFG), 18 December 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/2Cael74.
 Information provided by the local activist and assistance group ‘Support PiA – Hilfe für Personen in Abschiebehaft’, 13 February 2023.
 Community for All, ‘Knastreport’, Newsletter Volume 2, April 2021. Available in German at https://bit.ly/3iGnrgu