Some politicians in Germany are demanding mandatory age checks for asylum seekers to prevent young refugees and migrants to lie about their age. How is age currently determined and how is the procedure handled in the German asylum process?
In the past three years, German authorities have registered nearly 70,000 unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. Currently, there are around 31.300 unaccompanied minor refugees in the care of the German Youth Welfare Office (Jugendamt), which has around 800 branches across Germany.
Being a minor guarantees certain rights and privileges such as more complex care and a ban on deportation. In case of a criminal act, they will be treated according to the criminal law relating to young offenders which is less severe. Minor refugees are also exempt from the Dublin-regulation, meaning they are not bound to the country where they have filed their first asylum request.
Critics of government policy have argued that some of the asylum seekers claiming to be underage may not be minors, and could be falsifying their ages to qualify for extra benefits. That’s why mandatory medical checks are now up for discussion, politicians of the CSU being the most outspoken proponents. Doctors across Germany, including the German Medial Association, have already voiced their concerns about the proposition.
How is age currently determined in the asylum process in Germany?
- There is no standardized procedure for determining the age of asylum seekers. Every state handles the procedure differently. Even though the asylum application process is standardized by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, the steps following initial registration might vary from state to state depending on what Youth Welfare Office will be in charge of underage minors and how jurisprudence is handled in that state.
- German Youth Welfare Office confirms or challenges: As soon as a refugee is registered, he has to state his age. If the person claims to be underage or found to be underage according to his documents, he is handed over to the care of the German Youth Welfare Office which then confirms the stated age or can challenge it.
- How does the Youth Welfare Office conduct the first check? Employees at the Youth Office will pose questions to the asylum seekers and assess their physical development, such as the growth of the beard. An examination of sexual organs is forbidden.
- German law regulates procedure: The Child and Youth Services Act (Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz) states in paragraph 42f how age assessment should be handled. The Youth Welfare Office has to determine the age on basis of the documents or by way of a qualified inspection, as described above. A medical check has to be conducted by the Youth Welfare Office either on request by the asylum seeker, his representative or on request of the authorities. A full briefing about the procedure and possible repercussions of age determination has to occur prior to the check. The refugee can reject being tested - in which case the Youth Office can end the process and refuse care to the asylum seeker.
- Medical tests are already being conducted in cases of doubt. The state of Hamburg, for example, regularly carries out medical tests if there are inconsistencies between the information provided by the asylum seeker and the assessment by the Youth Welfare Office. The director of the Hamburg University Clinic in Eppendorf, Klaus Püschel, explained in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit that this examination was also an opportunity for the asylum seeker to prove their real age to the authorities. However, over the last few years, two-thirds of the people examined were proven to be much older than they had stated. Over the last 12 months, this was the case for half of all people examined, Püschel said.
- X-ray check of the hand bone structure: this procedure is currently being debated, critics warn that the radiation technology could harm the body. Politicians of CSU and CDU are demanding it become a standard procedure in every state. The state of Saarland in the south-west of Germany already carries out these tests in cases of doubt: in 35 percent of the cases, tests showed that the refugees had already reached full age, the state’s minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in an interview with public broadcaster ZDF.
- In other EU countries, mandatory checks already exist. In Belgium, for example, every asylum seeker is checked if the age cannot be proven by documents. An x-ray is taken of the teeth, the hands and the collarbone. In Italy and Sweden, x-rays checks are conducted as well, though they are voluntary and can serve as legal proof.