National law only provides basic rules for detention centres. As a result, conditions differ very much throughout the country. Health care in detention is in general provided according to the provisions of the Asylum Seekers benefits Act, which foresees emergency care only (see Health Care). 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 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, 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 removal), a website run by activists campaigning for the general abolishment of detention pending removal:
Darmstadt-Eberstadt, Hesse: The facility was opened at the beginning of 2018. Detention conditions have been criticised heavily by local activists who, in a newspaper report of January 2020, refer 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. A new, enlarged facility was opened in Darmstadt-Eberstadt in January 2021. According to the state government, the reception standards in the new facility are “considerable higher” than in the previous facility.
The State law of 2017 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). According to a local activist and visitors’ group, however, in 2021 detainees were only allowed one hour of yard exercise per day, and visits are limited to three persons at a time and one hour. There are two social workers at the facility, and one external person providing counselling 4 hours a week. Detainees are allowed to use their mobile phones but without the camera function, and they have to buy mobile subscriptions at their own costs. They receive 20 Euros of “pocket money” per week from which they can buy products from a pre-defined shopping list. Health care in detention is described by local activists as insufficient, especially for detainees with serious conditions.
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 restrictive amendments to the Federal State’s law on the enforcement of detention pending removal. 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.[14
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).
With the outbreak of Covid-19, people continued to be detained in Büren. According to the support group “Hilfe für Menschen in Abschiebehaft Büren”, detainees were not informed in an adequate manner about measures taken in the context of the pandemic. This was aggravated by the lack of access to support groups (see Access to detention facilities).
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. In May 2019, following a protest outside the detention centre where one detainee spoke to the protesters via telephone, activists have reported severe repressive measures from the police and personnel, leading to isolation of several detainees, including a lack of access to showers or medical treatment. A petition on the matter, filed to the State parliament, had been without response 15 months later. In April 2020, detainees who had been transferred from the detention centre in Damrstadt-Eberstadt, Hesse, started a hunger strike to protest the detention conditions in Pforzheim.
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.
Glückstadt, Schleswig-Holstein: The detention facility in Glückstadt was opened on 16 August 2021. At the start, capacity was limited to 12 people, and this is to be gradually increased to the maximum capacity of 60 places. The State government describes the facility as “setting new standards for humane enforcement”, with rooms with private toilets, mobile phones without camera provided by the facility and pocket money for detainees. The facility employs six full-time medical staff, the protestant welfare association Diakonie is present in the facility to provide counselling on social matters, and psychological care is assured via a cooperation with the psychiatric hospital in Itzehoe, according to the government. Independent legal advice is not provided by the authorities. Instead, a student-led initiative of two Law Clinics based in hamburg provides free legal advice in coordination with the Diakonie staff. While being of a comparatively high standards when it comes to detention conditions, the facility is surrounded by high walls and barbed wire like facilities in other Federal States. Furthermore, while mobile phones are provided, they do not allow communication via internet-based messengers, which means most communication with family, friends or supporters is only possible via the three shared computers, making private communication difficult. NGOs such as PRO ASYL, church organizations and local activists criticized the opening of the facility, pointing to the fact that even “beautiful” facilities cannot do away with the immense psychological pressure on detainees and the fact that detention is often ordered unlawfully. Over the course of 2021, a total of 38 persons were detained in Glückstadt. The number of detainees has been rising over the course of the year and in early 2022 with new parts of the detention center opening.
 Official Gazette for the Federal State of Hesse, Gesetz über den Vollzug ausländerrechtlicher Freiheitsentziehungsmaßnahmen(VaFG), 18 December 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/2Cael74.
 Lina Droste and Sebastian Nitschke, ‘Die Würde des Menschen ist abschiebbar. Einblicke in Geschichte, Bedingungen und Realität deutscher Abschiebehaft’, 1. Auflage 2021, Münster: edition assemblage, 96.
 Section 14, Gesetz über den Vollzug ausländerrechtlicher Freiheitsentziehungsmaßnahmen(VaFG), 18 December 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/2Cael74.
Lina Droste and Sebastian Nitschke, ‘Die Würde des Menschen ist abschiebbar. Einblicke in Geschichte, Bedingungen und Realität deutscher Abschiebehaft’, 1. Auflage 2021, Münster: edition assemblage, 96.
 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.