An increasing number of rejected asylum seekers in Germany are trying to commit suicide. What are the reasons behind this and what can be done?
During the New Year, as people were still celebrating,Taher, a 22-year old Afghan asylum seeker in southeastern German city of Abensberg, committed suicide by throwing himself from the window of the room in the shelter he was staying, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. He had just been informed that his request for asylum had been rejected. It also happened to be his birthday.
Suicide cases amongst asylum seekers are on the increase in Germany, especially in the conservative southeastern state of Bavaria, which has called for a tougher asylum policy. In 2016, 158 refugees in Bavaria tried to commit suicide, with four of them succeeding, according to a report made to the Bavarian state parliament at the request of the Green Party. However, the report did not discuss any link between suicide and deportation.
Psychiatrist Amer Masri, who works at the Berlin center for migrants who have survived violence, called Überleben, told InfoMigrants that the reason behind these suicide attempts may be a feeling of despair. "It’s natural to be stressed due to a deportation notice. The migrant will be killed anyway when he returns to his war-torn country, or have to deal with the very poor economic conditions back home."
However, Masri said that a suicide attempt does not necessarily mean that the person is suffering from a mental illness. "Sometimes it might be a way for a refugee to get sympathy, or to try to improve his or her situation."
Exactly one year before Taher's suicide, a refugee from Afghanistan set himself on fire in a market square in upper Bavaria. Two months after this, a 27-year old Afghan in Bavaria tried to jump off a bridge, according to the Deutsche Zeitung newspaper.
tightening of asylum laws has played a significant role in increasing the fear and
despair of rejected asylum-seekers, Masri told InfoMigrants. "One of the people I
treat is a Syrian refugee. She always tells me she's afraid of deportation,
even though Syrian refugees are not being deported. But the laws alone are not the reason. Some people are looking for anything to
Taher may not have committed suicide if he had received psychiatric treatment like that of the Syrian refugee, or if he had been in an asylum shelter with better conditions. He had previously been at a center near Mainburg, where social workers took care of him. But it was closed down and Taher was transferred to Abensberg. There, the social workers and volunteers did not have the time to take care of him, because of the large numbers there. The newspaper noted that Taher spent a lot of time alone, without any activities to occupy himself with.
'Psychological awareness is the
In this context, Masri told InfoMigrants, the poor social and living conditions in some shelters may worsen refugees' psychological conditions. "Asylum seekers take time to try to fit in and find friends where they are living, but suddenly, as in Taher's case, they may be moved and faced with a new living situation that they have to cope with, not to mention the concern about deportation."
Afghan asylum-seekers are suffering from fear and a constant
concern about deportation, according to Christina Kam, spokeswoman for the asylum policy of the Green
Party bloc in the Bavarian parliament. "Their
families have been persecuted or killed, but their right to asylum is not
recognized because these actions were not committed by the government of their country, but by the Taliban, IS, or other militias," she said.
The rise in suicide attempts in Bavaria has led to political controversy over the issue of refugee repatriation. The local government has refused to accept responsibility for the increase in these cases, calling it a "defamatory and unfounded charge." The Bavarian interior ministry said the number of people being deported to Afghanistan has not increased, but acknowledged that there are serious concerns and unrest among the Afghan refugee community.