Geneva The distressing living conditions reported in the asylum centres near Cologne, Germany, must be changed immediately, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement on Tuesday. It is incredible that in one of the richest countries in the world, asylum seekers are put in facilities plagued by rats, severe mold and inadequate hygiene.

The recent testimonies of residents in Pulheim's accommodation centres to Germany’s public broadcaster provide a bleak picture of the living conditions that approximately 740 asylum seekers are compelled to endure during the long waiting times whilst their cases are processed. 

   The conditions described in these centres violate the right to adequate housing and a standard of living   

One of the main concerns the residents of the centres have is the lack of adequate showering facilities, where all showers, except one, are plagued with mold and obtain unbearable odours.This therefore makes it extremely difficult for individuals to maintain proper hygiene or get sufficient rest. In addition, asylum seekers  imply that the rooms they are provided with are overcrowded, small, and unsuitable for a dignified life. This situation is unacceptable and has a profound impact on the physical and mental well-being of the residents.

Furthermore, reports indicate that rats have infested the vicinity of the accommodation centres and have migrated into the residents’ living quarters. Even though city officials have claimed that an exterminator is addressing therat infestation , the persistent presence of rats poses as a  significant health risk, and further exacerbates the existing dire conditions faced by asylum seekers.

The residents have additionally raised a reoccurring problem with handling garbage and leftover waste, as proper waste management is crucial to maintain a safe and hygienic environment within the centres. We urge the authorities to take immediate action to address this matter effectively and to prioritise the well-being of the residents.

Legal analysis

The conditions described in these centres violate the right to adequate housing and a standard of living, which is protected under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Unsanitary conditions and the presence of mold in accommodation centers pose a risk to the physical and mental health of asylum seekers in violation of the right to health. This right is guaranteed by international human rights law and the EU Charter and requires states to take necessary measures to prevent and address health hazards and ensure access to healthcare services.

Moreover, the overcrowding and the lack of proper sanitation may amount to inhumane or degrading treatment, which is prohibited by international human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Germany, as a party to these agreements, has an obligation to ensure that asylum seekers have access to suitable housing and living conditions that meet the minimum standards of human dignity.

Insufficient German measures

While Euro-Med Monitor acknowledges that official plans for new buildings have been developed, the implementation and repairs are said to take time, leaving the residents to endure these unacceptable conditions for an indefinite period. It is crucial for the authorities to expedite these plans and ensure that the necessary reconstruction and replacement measures are taken without delay.

We have further acknowledged that some residents may contribute to the challenging conditions, however, we caution that it is crucial to recognize the underlying psychological state of individuals who have fled their homes and arrived traumatised. Some residents’ disappointment and lack of motivation to improve their circumstances are understandable given the circumstances they find themselves in. We emphasise the need for comprehensive support mechanisms that prioritise the mental health and well-being of the refugees.

It is disheartening to witness that many municipalities across Germany are struggling to provide adequate housing for the increasing number of refugees and asylum seekers arriving. We, therefore, welcome the recent decision by the federal government to allocate additional funds toward supporting refugees as a step in the right direction. However, it is imperative to ensure that these resources are utilised effectively to address urgent needs and improve the living conditions of those seeking protection.

Euro-Med Monitor calls on the German authorities to take immediate action to rectify the appalling living conditions in Pulheim’s asylum centres. The well-being and dignity of refugees and asylum seekers should be safeguarded, and every effort should be made to provide them with safe, sanitary, and humane living conditions. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that those fleeing persecution and seeking protection are treated with compassion and respect, in accordance with international human rights standards.