Latest World News

Underage refugees: A room for Farzam


Last year, two and a half times as many underage refugees came to Germany as in 2021. Many cities and municipalities are completely overwhelmed. A foundation in Freiburg is looking for solutions.

A sloping wall above the bed, a chair, a television, a shower – Farzam Hussaini’s new home is small, but at least he has his own room. He would like to share it with his family, but he escaped all by himself.

“It was very difficult for me at the beginning. I miss my family and someone who has my back,” says the 17-year-old. It’s a little better now. “I noticed that they take care of me here.” Man, that’s the “timeout foundation” in St. Märgen near Freiburg, a non-profit limited company of people who are involved in helping children, young people and the elderly.

Farzam was unable to take anything with him from his home in Kabul, Afghanistan. All he owns are the clothes he was wearing when he escaped. Most people here are like him. 16 young people are currently accommodated in the former hotel of the “timeout foundation”.

“More important than a holiday in the Black Forest”

The hotel closed permanently in November to make room for unaccompanied refugee minors. “Now that’s more important than a vacation in the Black Forest,” says Managing Director Daniel Götte. The foundation gets paid for the places and their work for the minors by the municipality.

Three boys have just arrived. One had to be taken straight to the dentist. Götte says: “Some of the minors who arrive here have been on the run for months, without suitable clothing, without medical care and with too little food. Many have experienced psychological and physical violence.” According to the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Social Affairs, it is mainly boys who come, most of them are between 14 and 18 years old.

Hardly any housing options

The situation in Germany has deteriorated since the outbreak of war in Ukraine a year ago. Cities and municipalities are at the limit when it comes to taking in refugees.

Nationwide, there is still no number for 2022 on how many unaccompanied minor refugees came to Germany. But in Baden-Württemberg alone, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs, there were 3,180 – two and a half times as many as in 2021.

Above all, the accommodation causes problems for the municipalities. Central initial reception centers such as those for adults are not permitted. The minors are looked after directly by the youth welfare office. A place must be found for each individual.

But places are rare. Accommodations such as those offered by the “timeout foundation” are a rare exception. Managing Director Götte says that in the short term you can also use gyms to deal with the emergency. “But we have to think long-term. These young people all need adequate living space. It’s missing. We have to create it.”

The International Society for Educational Aid (IGfH) complains that this is also due to the fact that the cities and municipalities have repeatedly reduced places and is therefore demanding a basic contingent of accommodation options so that everything does not have to be created again in crisis situations.

Not enough staff

The second difficulty is the lack of supervisors. In Baden-Württemberg, among other places, the standards have therefore been lowered. There is no longer a need for a pedagogue to be on site at night, security forces are sufficient. The IGfH warns: This could lead directly to discrimination against young people who have a particularly high need for support.

Götte from the “timeout foundation” thinks it’s only an emergency solution, but at least a pragmatic one: “There just aren’t enough specialist staff there.” He would like to see youth welfare organized more flexibly. “Let’s integrate well-integrated people from the countries from which the young people who have fled come into the specialist teams, as barrier-free as possible. Then it will work,” he says. You have to say goodbye to only hiring certified staff with extensive training.

They have already had good experiences with the “timeout foundation”. Götte explains that people who, because of their origins, better understand the culture, the way of thinking, and the understanding of the roles of underage refugees can often solve problems before they grow up.

The two chefs in St. Märgen came from Iran and Gambia. “That’s helpful, too. Familiar food also means a bit of home,” he adds. Fixed structures and good educational opportunities are also important for arriving and for a feeling of security.

Learn German as quickly as possible

Farzam is sitting at the table with nine other boys, German lesson. A ball flies back and forth, whoever catches it has a turn: “My name is Farzam. What time is it? I’m tired.” The phrase “I come from Afghanistan” is repeated over and over again. A particularly large number of underage refugees come from there, and many also come from Iraq and Syria, according to the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Social Affairs.

In St. Märgen, they receive instruction – in addition to German, also in math. At the foundation, they are not only given by trained teachers, but also by helpers who have previous experience.

In the beginning, all the refugees have lessons together. They are then divided into groups based on their level of knowledge. “They are all eager to learn and want to take part in the lessons,” says Masoud Farhatyar, the refugee coordinator in charge. Farzam has resolved to learn German so well over the next two months that he can manage on his own.

Great redistribution

How difficult it is for the children and young people here, with their own room and good care, resonates in every sentence. When asked if he likes it here, Farzam replies: He likes it very much here, but it’s not his own city and he would actually prefer to be there. But he had to go.

He may also have to leave St. Märgen soon. A major redistribution is currently underway, the minors are distributed among the municipalities according to a specific key. In the long term, however, the hotel should become a permanent home, explains Götte: from the time they arrive until the minors are adults. Unfortunately, it is uncertain whether this could also work for Farzam.