Detention of vulnerable applicants


Country Report: Detention of vulnerable applicants Last updated: 30/11/20


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According to German law, minors and members of other vulnerable groups must not be detained while they have the status of asylum applicants. However, asylum seekers may lose this status as a result of a Dublin procedure and hence be detained for the purpose of a Dublin transfer (see section on Grounds for Detention).

Section 62(1) of the Residence Act contains the following provision regarding the detention of children and families:

“Minors and families with minors may be taken into detention awaiting deportation only in exceptional cases and only for as long as it is adequate considering the well-being of the child.”

In 2019, 3,806 minors (under 18 years) were deported to third countries and 1,489 minors were transferred to another state under the Dublin Regulation.[1]  These measures usually involve that children are taken into custody for a few hours on the day the transfer takes place.  Furthermore, 1,337 minors were returned to neighbouring countries after being refused entry on the territory, out of which 222 were registered as unaccompanied minors.[2] The immediate returns (Zurückweisungen) or removals (Zurückschiebungen) are usually preceded by an arrest and a short-term apprehension.

With the exception of these short-term apprehensions, detention of minors ordered by a court seems to be exceptional. By way of illustration, the regional government of the Federal State of Hesse informed the Parliament that detention of minors for the purpose of deportations was “excluded”.[3]

Other available information on the matter refer to the period between 2015 and the first half of 2018. In response to a parliamentary question, most Federal States reported that, during that period, they did not detain children as a matter of principle. According to these statistics, no children were thus detained during this period. Only the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia reported that one minor had been detained, but he was released immediately when his minority had been established.[4] As regards the reported cases of minors being detained in the State of Lower Saxony, it turned out to be an error, according to the regional government.[5] It is important to note, however, that statistics on detention of minors have not been made available by all Federal States in response to the request referred to here.

In practice, however, detention of (possible) minors may occur in cases in which the age of the persons concerned is uncertain or disputed. The Refugee Council of Lower Saxony highlighted a case of an unaccompanied minor who had been detained by way of judicial order in the detention facility of Hannover-Langenhagen immediately after he had arrived from the Netherlands in February 2020. Detention was ordered by a judge despite the fact that the police had recorded his statement that he was 16 years old. An age assessment which took place in the detention centre later on came to the conclusion that it could not be excluded that the person concerned was younger than 18. As a result, the detention order had apparently been in breach of a directive from the Federal State which stipulates that minors should not be held in detention pending deportation as a matter of principle.[6]

An activist from North Rhine-Westphalia further reported in an interview conducted at the end of 2019 that in some cases detained persons have entered the detention facility of Büren as adults (following an age assessment), but have left it as children, because they were found to be of minor age when travel documents were issued by the authorities of the country of origin. In one of these cases, a person detained as an adult was later found to be only 14 years old. The persons concerned were released from detention. Nevertheless, they remain registered as adults in the detention centre‘s statistics, which leads to the false impression that no minors have been detained, according to the interviewee.[7]

A few Federal States have regulations in place for the detention of other vulnerable groups (such as elderly persons, persons with disabilities, nursing mothers, single parents), but most do not have any special provisions for these groups and detain them in practice. The same applies to de facto detention at airport detention facilities, which is applied inter alia to pregnant women, victims of torture and persons with medical conditions.

[1] Federal Government, Reply to parliamentary question by The Left, 19/18201, 19 March 2020, 13-14.

[2] Federal Government, Reply to parliamentary question by The Left, 19/18201, 19 March 2020, 17.

[3] Government of the Federal State of Hesse, Response to information request by The Left, 20/773, 16 September 2019, available in German at, 7.

[4] Federal Government, Reply to parliamentary question by The Left, 19/5817, 16 November 2018, 14-15,

[5] Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, „Ministry reports false numbers on detention pending deportation“, 29 November 2018, available in German at:

[6] Flüchtlingsrat Niedersachsen, ‚Unbegleiteter minderjähriger Flüchtling seit 13 Tagen rechtswidrig in Abschiebungshaf‘t, Press release of 3 March 2020, available in German at:

[7], ‚Eingesperrt ohne Straftat: So sind die Bedingungen in einem Abschiebegefängnis‘, 14 December 2019, available in German at


Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation