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Refugees hit especially hard by Corona-virus

Researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography (IfL) have spoken with key personnel from refugee initiatives in Leipzig. The results of their research highlight the difficult situation in asylum accommodation and care facilities and underline the increased need for action in the areas of accommodation, communication and education.

How are refugees currently doing in Leipzig? How do they deal with the Covid-19 restrictions? And what role do the socio-political actors who are responsible for supporting refugees in the city play? In order to find out more about these aspects of the Corona crisis, which have so far received less public attention, the IfL researchers Dr Elisabeth Kirndörfer and Dr Kathrin Hörschelmann interviewed key personnel from social organisations and advice centres in an unrepresentative telephone survey.

Social isolation leads to fears

One of the survey findings is that people living in collective accommodation suffer particularly from the restrictions on visits and from the curfews. Consultations are suspended, common rooms are closed, child and family care services, activities such as sports, sewing cafés or bicycle repair shops have been cancelled. Voluntary support, for example in the form of sponsorship, has been completely "put on hold", so there is no direct contact with the residents. Alternative ways of communicating, for instance via video, can only partially help and cannot replace offers such as open meetings. They also often fail due to the lack of comprehensive WLAN-coverage. Conflicts can easily escalate in this tense situation.

The situation in the initial reception facilities is considered problematic. Within them, conditions are particularly "rigid", as one employee reports. Hundreds of people live there in very confined spaces, without any connection to civil society structures. Due to a lack of hygiene facilities, residents cannot protect themselves adequately against the virus.

The constantly changing information situation also leads to insecurity, especially among migrants with little knowledge of German and young refugees who have not lived in Germany for long. People often do not know what they are allowed to do and what they cannot do. In addition to their fear of infection by the virus, there is also the fear of being controlled by the police and of problems with residence permits.

Staff from an advice centre consider the situation of families to be particularly problematic. Language barriers and the lack of equipment such as notebooks make it difficult for children to participate in the schools' digital substitute services. Due to constantly being together, the risk of domestic violence against children as well as between siblings and spouses increases.

Requests to politicians

In the current situation, the interviewed actors would like politicians to do one thing above all: to provide more protection. They call for a stronger focus on marginalised groups so that they are not discriminated even more than they already are. In the education sector, those responsible must now quickly create digital opportunities for all and reduce the pressure on children to perform. Collective accommodation should be abolished, unlimited residence permits granted, the sanctions in the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act stopped and unrestricted access to the German health care system granted. "We are heading for a major social crisis and must ensure that organised civil society can work well," Elisabeth Kirndörfer and Kathrin Hörschelmann quote one of those affected. "Many of the interviewed persons have identified the need for political decision makers to provide social institutions and associations with the financial means to continue their work and to intensify it, now as well as after the crisis," the researchers say.


Elisabeth Kirndörfer and Kathrin Hörschelmann work on a European joint project to examine the question of how young refugees can shape public spaces and contribute their individual migration stories (learn more). Due to measures to contain the corona pandemic, they are currently unable to continue their project as planned. Together with their project partners in England, Belgium and the Netherlands, they have therefore decided to focus on the current situation in asylum accommodation and care facilities. "We are aware that our survey does not meet the strict criteria of a scientific study and by no means takes into account all individual experiences. Nevertheless, we think that the results can help to improve the tense situation in asylum shelters and care facilities."

More information:

Dr Elisabeth Kirndörfer

Dr Kathrin Hörschelmann