The number of refugees attempting suicide in Germany's central state of Hesse is on the rise. The Left Party parliamentary group attributes the increase to dire conditions in asylum centers and an increased threat of deportation. Hesse's state government says there are exemplary psychosocial care programs in place.
Frankfurt airport is Germany's main transit hub. Many rejected asylum seekers, forced to leave the country, are returned on flights leaving from here. While waiting for their return flights, they are placed in accommodation in a special transit zone. This is where many suicide attempts and acts of self-harm take place.
A total of 70 asylum seekers attempted to kill or harm themselves in the state of Hesse last year, 18 of those in the airport transit zone. Four committed suicide, with one case taking place at the airport.
This is a dramatic increase compared to pervious years: between 2014 and 2016, no suicides were recorded among asylum seekers in Hesse. There were also no suicide attempts in 2014, in 2015 there were four, and in 2016, 18 asylum seekers attempted to kill or harm themselves. These figures were recently released by Hesse's Ministry of Social Policy and Integration (CDU) in response to an inquiry by the Left Party parliamentary group.
Lack of privacy, lack of perspectives
"A suicide can have deeply personal reasons but we need to look at the conditions refugees are living in as well," says a spokesperson for Gabriele Faulhaber, member Hesse state parliament, who herself is spokesperson for the Left Party parliamentary group's migration policy.
"One the one hand, there is the issue of accommodation. The transit zone at the airport is an extremely confined space. This also applies to most asylum centers in Hesse, run either by the state or by the communes. These are large centers where asylum seekers share one room with many people. The asylum seekers have no privacy, for months or even years," according to Faulhaber. The Left Party is calling for a humane approach to accommodation that allows for quicker integration and participation in social life.
Fear of deportation
Asylum seekers are also confronted with growing uncertainty about the outcome of their asylum case. "Over the last few years, it has become more difficult to be granted asylum, more restrictions have been put into place. In addition, the pressure regarding possible deportation has risen. This is especially true for deportations to so-called safe countries of origin, such as the Balkan countries. But deportations to Afghanistan and Pakistan are also increasing."
For Natasha (pseudonym), a transgender asylum seeker from Afghanistan, life in the asylum accommodation was so unbearable that she attempted to end her life. Natasha told InfoMigrants: "I am a woman, and when I first came to Germany, I was placed in a room with four single men. We shared a bathroom and they tried to rape me." The police prevented Natasha's suicide attempt and transferred her to a hospital. Only afterward she was brought to a different asylum center.
While each case is different, many refugees and asylum seekers share similar difficulties. "It’s a combination of how asylum seekers are accommodated, their lack of perspectives as well as a rising threat of deportation. These factors are certainly playing a role in why these asylum seekers are attempting or even committing suicide," Faulhaber's spokesperson says.
The state government of Hesse explained it is doing more than other German states in terms of prevention measures and psychological support for refugees.
"The state runs comprehensive counseling programs in its initial reception centers, including social services in the centers," says Ester Walter, Head of Public Affairs at the Hessian Ministry of Social Policy and Integration. "We are very attentive to the people seeking protection here. We started implementing programs in psychosocial care at a time when other states were solely handling logistics of where to accommodate people."
Today, there are four psychosocial centers that take care of traumatized refugees and asylum seekers in Hesse. The centers were developed by "Step-by-step,"a joint program run by the state and the Sigmund Freund Institute that was started in 2015. "The program is unique in Germany. It offers help and counseling to people who have suffered from trauma," Walter says.A German-wide trend?
There are no official numbers on how many refugees in Germany have committed suicide. According to the Federal Office of Statistics, in 2015, more than 10,000 people took their lives in Germany. The percentage of refugees is not recorded.
But the recent trend of increasing suicide attempts holds for other states in Germany as well. In Bavaria, 162 refugees attempted suicide in 2016, a threefold increase compared to the year before. According to an inquiry by the Free Democrats (FDP) for the state government in Lower Saxony, the number of suicide attempts among refugees in 2016 had more than doubled compared to 2015.