Christians of different denominations and human rights groups have spoken out against planned construction of a 1,000-square-meter detention center for asylum seekers at a new Berlin airport scheduled to open in June.
The detention center at Berlin Brandenburg Airport would be used to prevent asylum seekers from entering Germany while their claims are fast-tracked for a decision to be made within 48 hours.
A letter signed by representatives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Berlin, Evangelical Protestant Church in Berlin-Brandenburg, Jesuit Refugee Service of Germany, the ecumenical organization Asylum in the Church and the Berlin and Brandenburg Refugee Councils, criticized the plans on legal and humanitarian grounds.
Many signatories, including the Jesuit Refugee Service, provide pastoral care and legal support for asylum seekers held in other German detention centers. “We are convinced that it is the duty of the church to help people who are in a vulnerable situation, and especially in detention and pending deportation,” said Father Martin Stark of the Jesuit Refugee Service in an interview. “I think it is very important that the churches are speaking with one voice on this issue,” he added.
In an interview, Beate Selders, a spokesperson for the Brandenburg Refugee Council, said that the fast-track procedure, already in operation at four other German airports, does not provide legal assistance for asylum seekers until a decision has been made on their claim, and that even then the time given to prepare a case for appeal is insufficient.
The largest fast-track detention center in Germany is at Frankfurt Airport. Selders said that church groups in Frankfurt play a major role providing legal support for asylum seekers and have been successful in preventing the deportation of large numbers of refugees. Still, she is concerned that the planned detention center in Berlin would stretch limited resources to the breaking point.
“The churches in Berlin and Brandenburg are much poorer than the churches in Hesse [the Frankfurt Airport region],” she said. “It takes a lot of money and manpower to give these people the support they need. And we don’t believe that churches and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] should be left to do this. The government has an obligation to provide a procedure that is fair.”