Underage refugees who come to Germany on their own are spread throughout the country. Saarland opened the first initial screening centre in Germany in February 2016, which oversees the arrival of all unaccompanied, underage refugees (UUR) in the state. Saarland’s Social Affairs Minister Monika Bachmann is convinced of the concept and calls for national uniform standards.
At the start of 2016, there were roughly 60,000 UUR living in Germany, according to the according to the Federal Organisation for Unaccompanied, Underage Refugees (BumF). They come primarily from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, and Somalia. Shaped by war and having to flee, they hope to benefit in Germany from better living conditions and more promising future prospects than they were able to in their homelands.
Many young refugees take their first steps onto German soil only once they’ve arrive at the central train station in Saarbrücken. That many UUR arrive in Saarland has much to do with the proximity to the French border, says Monika Bachmann. “In addition, many unaccompanied, underage foreigners come to Saarland because they have relatives here”.
Up until now, the first point of contact to German officials for refugees at the Saarbrücken train station is the police, after which the UUR were then brought to the Youth Offices, which would take them to the appropriate communes. But that’s changed since February 2016: In Saarland, there is now a centralised location – the Schaumberger Hof in the town of Tholey, which has a population of just 12,000 citizens. The former therapy centre was set up by the Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Women, and Family as a centralised screening centre.
It’s determined over the course of the initial screening process whether youths are eligible to take part in a distribution programme. For this, they are first supervised by social workers and medically examined. “Medical attention, social work, and accommodation take place under one roof. The centre has the benefit of making the initial screening process quick and easy”, says the Saarland Minister of Social Affairs. But she doesn’t just see positive things. “Much is still unresolved. A lot of legal standards and norms for youth welfare rights don’t quite work for the challenges of integrating, caring for, and assimilating unaccompanied minors into our society”.
After about a week, the young refugees are then sent throughout the nation to other states, according to stipulations in the Köngisteiner Schlüssel – a policy outlining the contributions each state must make to ensure the financial burden is equally distributed among states. This policy was reenacted in November 2015, because certain refugee youth shelters had already reached capacity. Monika Bachmann believes this reorganisation to be practical. “The new registration process was important because it brought a lot transparency to the finances and shared burden. It wasn’t clear before what the overall state of things in Germany was”. According to the Ministry for Social Affairs there are over 1,280 unaccompanied, underage refugees in Saarland, putting it over its quota of 833 UUR and making it exempt from having to accept any more (February 2016 figures).
As a result, many youths continue on from Tholey to states that haven't yet met their quota. The nationwide distribution is, just like the initial screening centre, an organisational challenge, but one which Monika Bachmann views optimistically. “In the past we’ve proven, time and again, that we can accomplish anything when society stands together. But it's also important that national standards are set for the accommodation of unaccompanied youths.”