Asylum seekers who have been sent to holding centers at German international airports go through a lot of stress, knowing that their claim for asylum will most likely be rejected. Social worker Jessica Gürtler from a Protestant care center at the airport offers counseling to these asylum seekers.
When asylum seekers from so-called safe countries of origin enter Germany via one of its airports, they can be taken to holding centers in the transit areas of airport where they will go through an expediated asylum procedure that only lasts a few days. This is called the "airport procedure.“ Asylum seekers who cannot provide identification upon arrival also go through this process.
Jessica Gürtler has been offering counseling at the Munich airport since 2017.
epd: Miss Gürtler, how many people are currently involved in this transit procedure at the airport in Munich?
Gürtler: From the beginning of the year, many have been held in the transit area. We have already had people from Cuba, Togo, Egypt, China, Sri Lanka. Guinea, The Congo as well as Turkey in the holding area. Within two days, they will receive a hearing from employees at the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and can also take legal advice. Some of the asylum seekers will be able to enter Germany and will be transferred to a reception center in Munich. Others will go to a deportation center in Erding, or they will stay at the transit area in Munich airport for a few weeks until they travel out of Germany again.
What is the purpose of providing counseling as part of the procedure?
Gürtler: We make clear to these people that we are not from the police nor from the Migration Office and that they do not have to explain anything to us. When we come here, we are simply there for the migrants. Our offerings are based on individual needs. Sometimes it can be a simple conversation with the migrants, a memory game or having a cigarette together. Sometimes it can be intervening in a crisis after their asylum application was denied or helping them make a call to someone close to them in their home country.
Most of these people only have a suitcase with the bare necessities. We provide them with some clothes, material for hygiene, or medical supplies, like when diabetics need insulin. Helping migrants be psychologically stable, especially women who traveled to Germany alone, is an important task. Just because these migrants came to Germany by air it doesn't mean that they have fewer traumatic experiences behind them.
How does the asylum hearing work as part of the airport procedure?
Gürtler: We explain to the people their rights and duties during their hearing and tell them what it is about. If they want to contest an asylum decision that was denied, we are the intermediaries between the asylum seeker and the lawyer and also arrange for interpreters. If the reasons behind the asylum seeker fleeing their country are not considered as sufficient, we tell them about their options in their home country. If the asylum seeker is taken to the deportation center in Erding, their case is then explained to the officials there.
The exchange between the Federal Police, the lawyers, and the center is quite good, the only challenge is the short time frames of the airport procedure. When someone arrives on a Friday and already has a hearing set for Monday morning, it means there is no time for us to give counseling. This is a disadvantage for the asylum seeker: due to shame, fear or uncertainty, many asylum seekers cannot properly give the reasons they had for fleeing their home country and then are promptly deported.This interview was originally published in German by the epd news agency.