National law only provides basic rules for detention centres. As a result, conditions differ very much throughout the country. The Federal States are responsible for the organisation of these detention facilities.
The competent authorities for the management of the centres are the prison authorities under the Ministry of Justice or the (regional) police authorities. Therefore, members of staff are usually either prison staff or police officers or employees of the administrative part of the police or the prison services. By way of exception, the Munich Airport Hangar 3 detention centre opened in September 2018 is directly managed by the newly funded Bavarian State Office for Asylum and Returns (Bayerisches Landesamt für Asyl und Rückführungen). No centre is managed by external companies but, in some cases e.g. Munich Airport Hangar 3, the authorities cooperate with private security companies to take over certain tasks.
As facilities vary greatly in terms of size and equipment, it is not possible to describe the overall conditions in the detention centres. The paragraphs below describe the situation of a few institutions only and do not claim to provide a comprehensive overview of the detention conditions in Germany. An overview of facilities and a collection of reports in German on detention conditions can also be found at “100 Jahre Abschiebehaft” (100 years of custody pending deportation), a website run by activists campaigning for the general abolishment of detention pending deportation:
Darmstadt-Eberstadt, Hesse: The facility was opened at the beginning of 2018. Right before the facility started operating, the State Parliament passed a law which sets out some basic principles for the facility. These include the following: (a) Detainees are allowed to move freely within the facility during the day and they shall have access to open-air spaces. Restrictions of movement shall be possible only to uphold security and order in the facility; (b) The facility shall make all possible efforts to provide rooms and opportunities for spare time activities and also for work (which should be remunerated).
The Regional Government of the State of Hesse gave the following details in response to a parliamentary information request in September 2019:
- Detainees are allowed at least two hours of yard exercise (one hour in the morning and one in the afternoon).
- Other activities include: Games and reading, manufacturing prayer mats, common prayer, cooking and common meals; most detainees only participate in the common prayer and in the subsequent communal meals; apart from common cooking activities, detainees are not allowed to prepare their own meals;
- Work opportunities are limited to simple jobs such as cleaning of common rooms, distribution of fresh clothes;
- Detainees are provided pocket money amounting to €20 per week, every two weeks they can order products such as (additional) food and beverage, hygiene products and magazines; within the facility cigarettes and tobacco can be bought; other products, in particular pre-paid phone cards are only available upon application;
- Meals without pork and vegetarian meals are provided; tea and coffee can be made at any time;
- One social worker is available for every 20 persons; communication with the social services and with medical staff usually takes place with the help of translation devices or staff members who serve as interpreters; interpreters from outside the facility can be drawn upon if necessary.
In June 2018, local activists accused the staff of the facility of brutality against detainees. They claimed that “ill-treatment, restraining of detainees and incommunicado detention” were “commonplace” at the facility. Authorities rejected these allegations and claimed that isolated incidents had been generalised and exaggerated by local activists. According to a police spokeswoman, physical violence had only been used in one case when a baton and pepper spray were employed to restrain a detainee.
In a newspaper report of January 2020, local activists are quoted in the report as referring to several detainees who went on hunger strike to protest against poor detention conditions and because they received no medical care. The facility‘s management rejected the allegations and pointed out that a doctor was regularly available in the facility.
Büren, North Rhine-Westphalia: In January 2018, the facility of Büren was visited by the National Agency for the Prevention of Torture, an independent body monitoring places of detention in order to prevent violations of the UN Convention Against Torture. The National Agency published a report on 30 October 2018 in which it severely criticised the detention conditions in Büren. Following issues were raised:
- “Restrictive basic approach”: The staff reported that a number of criminals and “persons posing a risk” (i.e. terrorist suspects) were amongst the detainees and they stated they did not have sufficient information on the possible risks that detainees might pose. According to the National Agency this has resulted in an extension of restrictive measures affecting all detainees. For instance, as opposed to the previous years, detainees were generally locked in their cells not only at night but also from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. When they were allowed to leave their cells, the areas of the facility in which they were allowed to move freely were restricted. The National Agency noted that “a remarkable high number” of “special security measures” were in place at the Büren facility in comparison to the pre-removal detention facilities of other Federal States. The report concludes that the detention regime that is applied in Büren has become similar to the regime that is applied in a regular penal prison.
- At the time of the visit, several detainees, including two persons considered to be “persons posing a risk” (i.e. terrorist suspects), were kept in solitary confinement cells which are designed as regular prison cells. The National Agency highlighted that the current existing regulations for solitary confinement in the regular prison system cannot be applied to pre-removal detention facilities. Accordingly, the report concluded that the solitary confinement of the Büren facility did not have a legal basis in the Federal State’s legislation.
- The National Agency also expressed concerns regarding the special security measures that are applied, as they are not based on a thorough individual assessment and do not offer sufficient safeguards to comply with the principles of necessity and proportionality.
- Other points raised in the National Agency’s report related to the lack of privacy, the lack of psychological care and the lack of documentation of a case in which a detainee has been physically restrained.
The government of the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia had been given the opportunity to comment on the report’s findings before its publication. In that context, the government announced that some measures were taken to raise awareness of the facility’s staff, but it rejected the report’s allegations according to which special security measures had no legal basis or were disproportionate.
In December 2018, the regional parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia adopted a series of amendments to the Federal State’s law on the enforcement of detention pending deportation. The most important amendment consists of a detailed list of “regulatory measures”, ranging from a temporary limitation or deprivation of the use of internet, TV and mobile phones to temporary limitations or suspension of freedom of movement within the facility (Section 19). Another new section of the law regulates “accommodation in special cases”, which refers to persons considered to pose a risk and to which limitations can be imposed without any time-limit (Section 20). Furthermore, the use of mobile phones with a camera function was banned.
In a statement submitted to a parliamentary committee, the Refugee Council of North Rhine-Westphalia highlighted that the new restrictions are very similar to the restrictions used in the regular prison system. The support group “Hilfe für Menschen in Abschiebehaft Büren” shared this view and further criticised that complaint mechanisms and legal measures to challenge the new security measures were insufficient.
Detention conditions at the Büren facility were described in detail in an interview with Frank Gockel at the end of 2019, a local activist and member of the support group “Hilfe für Menschen in Abschiebehaft Büren” which offers advice for detainees on a weekly basis:
- Upon arrival detainees have to undress completely to be checked (mouth, ears, nose, anus). This check can be carried out by force if the person refuses to undress.
- Most cells are equipped with a table, bed, television, locker, chair, toilet and a sink.
- Cells are open for at least eight hours a day, the courtyard is accessible for one or two hours a day. Leisure activities include table tennis, billiard and a gym. In some areas there is a common kitchen for four to five people and an internet access which four people share.
- Visits can take place between 9:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., but the facility is located far out of town and there is no connection to public transport (nearest bus stop is 8 km away).
- Against persons who act in breach of the house rules various sanctions can be imposed. This usually means that persons remain locked in their cells for the most part of the day and therefore have no contact to other detainees. In more serious cases, detainees may be banned from all leasure activities and they may even be placed under 24-hour surveillance. For persons who pose a risk to themselves or to others, specially secured cells are available, in which persons may be tied to a bed frame. The latter measure requires a court order, according to the regional government and it has not been applied in many cases (below 10 cases since 2015, according to the government, more than 10 cases according to the interviewee).
Pforzheim, Baden-Württemberg: A Protestant priest reported in May 2019 that the facility did not have a room to hold religious ceremonies. According to the Refugee Council of Baden-Würtemberg, the regional government had stated that there had been no demand for religious services at the facility. The Refugee Council described this statement as false, referring to several incidents in the past where detainees had asked to hold a religious service, but the priest was only allowed to visit one person at a time. The Refugee Council also criticised that medical care had not always been guaranteed. For example, a priest had organised an urgent appointment at an ophthalmologist for a detainee, but the person concerned had not been allowed to leave the facility for this appointment.
Eichstätt, Bavaria: Following a fact-finding mission conducted in April 2019, ECRE made the following observations on the conditions at the Eichstätt facility: The pre-removal detention centre (Einrichtung für Abschiebungschaft) of Eichstätt was converted from a prison, open since 1900, to a dedicated facility in 2016. Male and female quarters are separate. The female quarters are supervised by female security guards only. The living units are divided into rooms, including single rooms and rooms with a number of beds. There are common showers, in which detainees also do their own laundry. People are generally free to move within the facility, except during lunch and dinner. During lunch (starting 11:15 and until 13:00) and dinner, the men are locked in their rooms (a head count also takes place during dinner). Women are not locked in their rooms.
Reports about self-harm are frequent, usually to prevent removal. Tensions were frequent but have reduced since the opening of additional detention facilities in Bavaria in 2018. Disciplinary measures can be taken if a person violates rules e.g. withdrawal of shopping rights, access to television etc. in accordance with prison rules. Detainees can also be isolated for a certain period of time, for their own safety. However, where isolation is used, it is for very short periods of time.
In a report published in May 2019, the European Committe for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) summarised detention conditions at Eichstätt as follows (based on a visit to the facility in August 2018):
„While material conditions at the facility in Eichstätt were generally very good in terms of state of repair, living space, access to natural light, ventilation and equipment, the environment did not take into account the specific situation of immigration detainees, with a number of restrictions that appeared unnecessary.[…].
Moreover, due to the applicable legislation on the execution of prison sentences, the regime for immigration detainees held at the establishment was – to all intents and purposes – comparable to that of sentenced prisoners. The only significant differences concerned the fact that the detainees were not obliged to work and that they could usually have more contact with the outside world and spend more time outside their cells. However, male detainees – in contrast to female detainees – did not benefit from an open-door regime (indoors); […].“
According to the CPT‘s report, common rooms with sports equipment or television were only accessible for a maximum of two and a half hours per day, while the outdoor exercise yard could only be accessed in the afternoon. While detainees were allowed to make phone-calls and were provided wih free-of-charge phone cards for that purpose, they did no have access to the internet. Persons who behaved violently or who had either attempted or threatened to commit suicide can be referred to security cells at the Eichstätt facility. The facility‘s director stated that persons were not referred to these cells for disciplinary reasons, but only if the pose a risk to themselves or to others. The CPT criticised that conditions in the security cells were “akin to solitary confinement”, since people were locked up for 24 hours a day without access to outdoor exercise and they often were not allowed to make phone calls or receive visits.
Munich Airport Hangar 3, Bavaria: Following a fact-finding mission conducted in April 2019, ECRE described the facility at the airport as follows: “Hangar 3” was inaugurated on 10 September 2018 under a temporary contract running until 31 December 2019. The facility only hosts adult men. The detention centre is located inside a large hangar, previously used by Air Berlin. The facility is surrounded by a 4-meter fenced with barbed wire on top, resembling a cage, inside the hangar. The living units are organised in blue containers and each set of containers is surrounded by a second fence within the fenced facility in the hangar. Immediately next to the hangar (at the front) there is a small open air space, again surrounded by a high fence. Detainees can access this yard at any time of the day, but only under escort, as the open air area is locked. Within the open space area there is one blue container which is completely empty.
There are 21 container rooms with two beds per container and a separate room for the toilet and showers. All container windows have metal bars. The container rooms have a picture of the detainee and his name on the front door. The showers and toilets were in good condition and clean during a visit of ECRE in April 2019. The policy of the management is to accommodate one person per container, but according to the social worker, whenever there is a fear or indication of possible self-harm they try to have such person accompanied by another detainee. The container rooms all have two beds.
In the middle of the facility, there is a common area with metal benches and tables, ping pong and baby soccer tables, a chess board, and a common room (container) with a small TV and a table without chairs and no decorations. A number of books are also available. The common area is open from 09:00 to 21:00. There are no other leisure activities available and people cannot purchase anything during their stay in the Hangar 3, given that detention is usually short. Small necessities, e.g. cigarettes, are provided to them upon request.
 Official Gazette for the Federal State of Hesse, Gesetz über den Vollzug ausländerrechtlicher Freiheitsentziehungsmaßnahmen(VaFG), 18 December 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/2Cael74.
 Wiesbadener Tagblatt, ‚Critics of the detention centre in Darmstadt-Eberstadt – the police rejects allegations‘, available in German at https://bit.ly/2ITG4hW.
 Nationale Stelle zur Verhütung von Folter. Unterbringungseinrichtung für Ausreisepflichtige Büren, Besuch vom 24./25. Januar 2018, available in German at https://bit.ly/2CQ6Bbl.
 Ministerium für Kinder, Familie, Flüchtlinge und Integration des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, Statement of 28 September 2018, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2EUuxgn.
 Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen (GV. NRW.), Ausgabe 2018, 18 December 2018, No. 32, 770, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2H2pmLu.
 Flüchtlingsrat Nordrhein-Westfalen, Stellungnahme: Referentenentwurf Gesetz zur Änderung des Abschiebungshaftvollzugsgesetzes Nordrhein-Westfalen, 9 August 2018, available in German at https://bit.ly/2XxduGq.
 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.
 Report to the German Government on the visit to Germany carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 13 to 15 August 2018, 9 May 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2JJiN0z, 27.
 Ibid. 28 and 31.