Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 05/06/24


Teresa Fachinger, Paula Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik and Marlene Stiller

In 2019, a provision was introduced requiring Federal States to take appropriate measures to ensure the protection of women and vulnerable persons when accommodating asylum seekers in initial reception centres.[1] However, this provision does not justify any legal claim for vulnerable groups concerning specific measurements. The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth has published a handbook on minimum standards in reception centres.[2] This does also recommend separate bathrooms and toilets and standardised measures to prevent gender-based violence. What these ‘standardised measures’ entail is, however, not specified.

Even before this provision was introduced, authorities were required to provide specific support to those with special reception needs in accordance with the Reception Conditions Directive.[3] Special needs should be taken into account as part of the admission procedure to the initial reception centres, and social workers or medical personnel in the reception centres can assist with specific medical treatment. However, the Asylum Act does not foresee a systematic assessment procedure for vulnerable persons. A systematic screening for vulnerabilities is only in place in three Federal States (for details see Screening of vulnerability). Practices differ between Federal States and also municipalities, as not all Federal States have laws or protection concepts in place that apply to all accommodation centres for asylum seekers. Even if concepts for protection against (gender specific) violence theoretically exist, they are not legally binding, and their implementation is not reviewed. Women repeatedly report about assaults, not lockable sanitary facilities and confined spaces.[4]

The AnkER centres and functionally equivalent reception centres usually provide for separate accommodation for women travelling alone and other vulnerable groups in some cases.[5] However, whether or not protection of vulnerable groups is taken seriously in practice often depends on the local management of reception centres.[6] For example, there are reports of women travelling alone being housed next to men with psychological difficulties.[7]

By way of example, in Rhineland-Palatinate, the regional government has adopted a protection concept which also includes methods for the identification of vulnerabilities.[8] This includes the following measures:

  • Accommodation of possible vulnerable persons (i.e., persons who are suspected to have special needs) in separate areas of the reception centres where social services can provide better care and easily identify vulnerabilities;
  • If special reception needs have been established, vulnerable persons shall be accommodated in designated (i.e., separate) ‘protection areas’ with easy access to social services;
  • If necessary, vulnerable persons shall be able to lock their rooms. Single women shall be accommodated in areas to which male residents have no access and where, if possible, social services and supervision are only carried out by female staff members;
  • Separate rooms for LGBTI persons shall be provided upon request or if considered necessary by the reception centre’s management staff;
  • Persons with physical disabilities shall be accommodated in barrier-free parts of the centres and shall be provided with adequate equipment. If necessary, they shall be accommodated outside of the reception centres in specialised facilities for persons with disabilities.

In December 2022, the Refugee Council of Rhineland-Palatinate started a survey on how well the concept has been implemented, no data is available yet.[9]


Reception of unaccompanied children 

Unaccompanied children should be placed in the care of a youth welfare office which has to seek ‘adequate accommodation’.[10] This means that, legally, unaccompanied minors are not to be placed in general reception centres. Adequate accommodation can consist of private accommodation with other relatives, at foster families, general children’s homes or specific children’s homes tailored to the need of foreign unaccompanied children (Clearinghäuser).[11] The type of accommodation varies according to the different Federal States and the available capacities. The total overload and missing capacities of youth welfare offices has not only consequences for the legal proceedings but first and foremost also for housing. In some places, unaccompanied minors have to be in general reception centres or gymnasiums.[12] The Federal State of Saxony even legalised the housing of unaccompanied minors above 16 in general reception centres.[13]

Latest available figures for unaccompanied minors reflect the situation in 2021: during that year, 11,278 newly arriving unaccompanied minors were placed in the care of a youth welfare office (in comparison to 7,563 in 2020).[14] The total number of unaccompanied foreign children and young adults under the care of youth authorities remains at a lower level compared to 2016 where 64,045 were taken care of, but their number is on the rise again, with 30.221 in December 2023,[15] compared to 25.084 in December 2022, 27,862 in December 2021 and 21,276 in December 2020.[16] No exact differentiation is available for December 2023, but in December 2022, out of these unaccompanied children, 29,6% were older than 18 years but still fell under the competence of youth welfare offices because they were entitled to youth welfare measures. [17]

Unaccompanied children do not generally stay in the place in which they have arrived, but they can be sent to other places throughout Germany as part of a distribution system (see Legal representation of unaccompanied children). Figures in 2021 show that unaccompanied children were sent to all 16 Federal States. Since 2017 the distribution system does not correspond to the Königsteiner Schlüssel, but is based on a separate procedure.[18] North Rhine Westphalia (7,893), Baden-Wuerttemberg (4,185) and Bavaria (3,592) were those Federal States that took the most unaccompanied children.[19]

A study of the BumF, published in March 2021, shows significant disparities between regions as far as reception conditions for unaccompanied children are concerned.[20] Around 1,000 persons working in youth welfare institutions and NGOs participated in an online survey for this study. The authors of the report observe that reception conditions for unaccompanied children have generally improved in recent years due to a significant decrease in the number of newly arriving asylum seekers. Nevertheless, they also conclude that a good quality of accommodation and of other supportive measures for unaccompanied children is still not ensured in all parts of Germany. According to the authors, the data indicates that especially the Federal States of, Bremen, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Saxony need to undertake systematic efforts in this regard. Disparities are especially big as regards support for young adults. Moreover, a major point of concern for them are municipalities where unaccompanied minors will primarily be housed in regular collective accommodation or face homelessness once they turn 18. This happens most frequently in the Federal States of Bavaria, Thuringia, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg. Youth welfare offices however have the possibility under the law to continue to offer care and accommodation up to the age of 21 and up to 27 in individual cases.[21] It has been observed that at least in North Rhine-Westphalia the local authorities are rather good willing to grant prolonged care and accommodation if needed in the individual case.[22] In the update of June 2022 to the study, it was additionally stated there was an increase in legal insecurity against local distribution decisions and age assessment. The June 2022 report also emphasised racism by the German society.[23]

The regional authority in Berlin started a pilot project in 2021 to house former unaccompanied minors in reception centres, with continued support by youth welfare organisations. A number of NGOs criticised the project for not providing adequate individual support and assistance.[24] In 2023, a new reception centre has opened in Berlin, that has been praised for the above average child-care ratio, language courses and leisure opportunities.[25] However, this centre remains an exception as the reception capacities for unaccompanied children and adolescents have been exhausted since September 2021.[26] In November 2022 the Refugee Council Berlin reported alarming conditions for unaccompanied children who reside in regular reception centres. Due to the general overcrowding of reception facilities in Berlin, unaccompanied children even more suffer from the bad conditions there. According to the report of the Refugee Council Berlin, unaccompanied minors do not receive adequate assistance are badly treated by overburdened staff members, do not receive adequate food and access to schooling is postponed. Additionally, given the rise of arrivals in 2022, there are not enough legal guardians available for unaccompanied children which take care of support and assistance programmes.[27]

The rising numbers of arrivals not only caused problems to the reception of unaccompanied minors in Berlin but in all over Germany, several organisations therefore called upon the local authorities to guarantee the standards provided by the law for unaccompanied children.[28] Federal Working Group of Psychosocial Support Centres for Refugees and Victims of Torture, Deutschlandfunk and XENION, a centre providing psychosocial assistance to refugees, also reported limited access to psychotherapy for refugees, unaccompanied children and adolescents.[29]


Reception of LGBTQI+ persons

The situation of LGBTQI+ persons in reception centres and other collective accommodation centres has been frequently discussed, after many reports emerged about LGBTQI+ persons being harassed and attacked by other asylum seekers. In several cities, authorities and/or NGOs have opened specialised accommodation centres for LGBTQI+ persons.[30] Regional guidelines for protection against violence in refugee accommodation centres regularly refer to LGBTQI+ persons as a particularly vulnerable group.[31] Special protection measures should be taken following an individual assessment of the situation. For example, the guidelines for the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia state that vulnerable persons, such as pregnant women, single women, families and LGBTQI+ persons should be given priority when (single) rooms are allocated in accommodation centres. In Hamburg in 2022, civil society organisations started a petition to urge the Senate to introduce similar guidelines after several cases of harassment and re-traumatisation have been reported.[32] Furthermore, LGBTQI+ persons together with victims of trafficking and persons who have suffered from severe violence, are listed among persons for whom ‘other accommodation’(i.e. not in collective accommodation centres) can be necessary, again following an individual assessment of the situation.[33] Some of the AnkER and functionally equivalent centres provide for separate accommodation for LGBTQI+ persons, but sometimes upon request of the individuals only.[34]




[1] Section 44(2a) Asylum Act.

[2] Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and UNICEF, Mindeststandards zum Schutz von geflüchteten Menschen in Flüchtlingsunterkünften, available in German at: https://bit.ly/48WAaV2.

[3] Section 21 et seq. Directive 2013/33/EU.

[4] BR24.de, Wie sicher sind Asylbewerberunterkünfte für Frauen?, 27 September 2023, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3wn8g5X.

[5] See BAMF, Evaluation of AnkER Facilities and Functionally Equivalent Facilities, Research Report 37 of the BAMF Research Centre, 2021, available in English at: https://bit.ly/3FgxXnq, 85.

[6] PRO ASYL e.V., Bayerischer Flüchtlingsrat e.V.,Flüchtlingsrat Brandenburg e.V.,Hessischer FlüchtlingsratFlüchtlingsrat Niedersachsen e.V.,Flüchtlingsrat Sachsen-Anhalt e.V.,Universität Göttingen, ‘Zur Umsetzung Der Istanbul-Konvention In Bezug Auf Geflüchtete Frauen Und Mädchen In Deutschland. Schattenbericht für GREVIO’, July 2021, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3LdLTDg, 10.

[7] BafF, ‘Identifizierung besonderer Schutzbedürftigkeit am Beispiel von Personen mit Traumafolgestörungen. Status quo in den Bundesländern, Modelle und Herausforderungen’, June 2020, 28. Study available in German at: https://bit.ly/3GsdrSm.

[8] Konzept zum Gewaltschutz und zur Identifikation von schutzbedürftigen Personen in den Einrichtungen der Erstaufnahme in Rheinland-Pfalz, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3uD8xkO.

[9] Refugee Council Rhineland-Palatinate, Umfrage zur Unterbringung vulnerabler Personen in RLP, 12 December 2022, available in German at: http://bit.ly/3kGbxHI.

[10] Section 42(1) Social Code, Vol. VIII.

[11] Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Unbegleitete Minderjährige, 14 November 2019, available at: http://bit.ly/3HIg7P0.

[12] Bundesfachverband unbegleitete minderjährige Flüchtlinge, Es ist 5 nach 12: Rechtsverletzungen bei unbegleiteten geflüchteten Kindern und Jugendlichen, 16 November 2023, available in German at: https://bit.ly/49h12PN.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Federal Statistical Office, ‘Child protection: youth welfare offices took 5% more children and young people into care in 2021‘, 27 July 2022, available at: http://bit.ly/3Rez8M3. For 2016: Federal Government, Bericht über die Situation unbegleiteter ausländischer Minderjähriger in Deutschland (Report on the situation of unaccompanied foreign minors in Germany), Parliamentary report no. 19/17810, 05 March 2020, available in German at: https://bit.ly/38Q1VQU, 13.

[15] Federal Government, Zahlen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland lebender Flüchtlinge zum Stand Ende 2023, Ds. 20/9931, 28 December 2023, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3uHbCjV.

[16] Mediendienst Integraton, ‘Unbegleitete minderjährige Flüchtlinge’, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3FKaWtC.

[17] Federal Government, Bericht der Bundesregierung über die Situation unbegleiteter ausländischer Minderjähriger in Deutschland, Ds.20/7120, 01 June 2023, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3UH1gex.

[18] Jugend- und Familienministerkonferenz, Umlaufbeschluss 02/2017, 27 April 2017, available in German at: https://bit.ly/48vggiY.

[19] Federal Government, Zahlen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland lebender Flüchtlinge zum Stand Ende 2023, Ds. 20/9931, 28 December 2023, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3uHbCjV.

[20] Federal Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors, Die Situation unbegleiteter minderjähriger Flüchtlinge in Deutschland, March 2021, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3GMm1f5, 40.

[21] See Julian Tangermann and Paula Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik, ‘Unaccompanied Minors in Germany – Challenges and Measures after the Clarification of Residence Status’, Study by the German National Contact Point for the European Migration Network (EMN). Working Paper 80 of the Research Centre of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, March 2018, available in English at: https://bit.ly/3KcEEe6, 30-31.

[22] Individual Interview with Institute for Youth Support, Duisburg, 30 January 2023, contact: http://bit.ly/3Yc3ocJ.

[23] Federal Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors, Die Situation geflüchteter junger Menschen in Deutschland, June 2022, available in German at: http://bit.ly/3wDbW0e.

[24] See Flüchtlingsrat Berlin e. V., 20.09.2021: Keine ,Jugendhilfe Light’ in Sammelunterkünften für junge volljährige Geflüchtete!‘, 22 September 2021, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3L9AOlL.

[25] Tagesspiegel.de, Unbegleitete minderjährige Flüchtlinge: Neues Vorzeige-Wohnheim in Berlin eröffnet – doch die Probleme bleiben groß, 01 June 2023, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3SIRBBq.

[26] FRA, Migration – Fundamental Rights Concerns – Bulletin 1 January 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3Ng4gbF, 23.

[27] Refugee Council Berlin, Kinderschutz in Berlin jetzt gewährleisten!, 9 November 2022, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3JpysBq.

[28] Deutsche Institut für Jugendhilfe und Familienrecht e. V. (DIJuF), Forderungen zur Unterbringung von unbegleiteten minderjährigen Flüchtlingen, 20 December 2022, available in German at: http://bit.ly/3RdQ4SQ.

[29] Ibid. See also: Deutschlandfunk, ‘Flucht und TraumaWarum in Deutschland Therapieplätze für Migranten fehlen‘, 5 November 2021, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3uOqzR7; Xenion, ‚Deutschlandfunk: Janina Meyeringh im Interview zum Thema: Warum in Deutschland Therapieplätze für Migrant:innen fehlen‘, 9 November 2021, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3DiBu5H.

[30] Queer.de, ‘München schafft Schutzräume für LGBTI-Flüchtlinge’, 19 January 2017, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2jByQkW; Die Welt, ‘Hamburg bietet Wohnungen für schwule Flüchtlinge an’, 4 August 2016, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2DBL6rI.

[31] For protection concepts of different Federal States see Bundesinitiative Schutz von geflüchteten Menschen in Flüchtlingsunterkunften, Schutzkonzepte von Bundesländern, available in German at: https://bit.ly/4bEF5LT.

[32] Change.org, Umfassende Schutzmaßnahmen für LGBTQIA* Geflüchtete – von Tag 1 im Asylverfahren, available at: http://bit.ly/3Y2otpM. Report on harrassment: Lesben- und Schwulenverband (LSVD), Ausgangsbeschränkungen verschärfen LSBTI-feindliche Gewalt, available in German at: http://bit.ly/3XOXBK7.

[33] Ministry of the Interior for North Rhine-Westphalia, ‚Landesgewaltschutzkonzept für Flüchtlingseinrichtungen des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen‘, March 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/3USmzto.

[34] BAMF, ‘Evaluation of AnkER Facilities and Functionally Equivalent Facilities’, Research Report 37 of the BAMF Research Centre, 2021, available in English at: https://bit.ly/3FgxXnq.

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