Ellwangen, of all people, of all those refugee camps in the Ostalb district in Wurttemberg that made headlines in May 2018. At that time, around 150 refugees had come together to prevent a man from being deported, and the police then moved on to a controversial large-scale operation. Now police officers are standing in front of the former barracks on the outskirts of the village, around the clock.
This time, however, the officials do not have to deport anyone – on the contrary. You should ensure that none of the residents leave the premises. Because the district office has imposed a curfew on the so-called state initial reception facility (LEA) with its almost 600 residents. Asylum seekers are not allowed to leave the grounds until at least April 19 because the new type of coronavirus has spread among them.
More than 250 residents and 19 employees have so far been tested positive. And this week everyone who failed the test the first time will be re-examined. If newer cases of infection are detected, the curfew could be extended.
It is not the first time in the corona crisis that a large refugee shelter has been quarantined. At the end of March, the authorities imposed a two-week curfew on an initial reception facility in Thuringia with around 500 residents because one of them was infected. There, the feared wave of infections ultimately failed to materialize.
In Ellwangen, the virus either went unnoticed for a long time or spread extremely quickly. On April 2, the Stuttgart Regional Council, which operates the LEA on behalf of the state, initially reported an infected person. The man was immediately isolated at the time, but three days later six other residents were ill, which is why the district office ordered an exit and contact ban on April 5. It also caused all employees and residents to be tested.
When the last test results were finally available on the Easter weekend, it was clear: around 250 residents carried the virus. According to the authorities, most of the infected have so far had no or only mild symptoms. A resident was transferred to a clinic with a fever. 19 of the 204 employees had tested positive.
To prevent exactly such a scenario, newly arriving refugees have been tested for the virus for a few weeks and separated as a precaution. In Ellwangen, however, a man who had been living in the facility for a long time fell ill. Close contact cannot be avoided there: Two to six refugees share a room in the team buildings of the former barracks. There is only one bathroom per floor, and you can eat in the canteen.
Even if it is not clear whether the initially negatively tested residents are free of the virus, the regional council continues to try to separate them from those infected. Some houses were declared quarantine areas and a short-term room exchange was arranged. A second meal distribution has been set up.
Baden-Wurttemberg originally wanted to accommodate infected asylum seekers in a newly created isolation accommodation, a former leisure center where they could spend the quarantine in single or double rooms with their bathroom. However, it is too small to accommodate all the infections from Ellwangen. Only two women with their three children were transferred there.
Badly informed and unsettled
A group of former refugees who campaign for the rights of asylum seekers are observing the process critically. She demands that journalists and independent inspectors be allowed to visit the camp. Spokesman Rex Osa says he is in contact with several residents who do not want to speak to the media themselves. The refugees are not sufficiently informed and are very unsettled, says Osa. The regional council admits that some residents may have “initially felt that they were not fully informed”. However, employees would communicate a lot and would be able to do so in multiple languages.
The Comboni friar Manfred Bellinger believes that external parties are currently not allowed to visit the camp. For years he has been offering football training as one of the many volunteers who are involved in the LEA. At the moment he has to stay outside too.
In his experience, the employees and the private security forces treat the residents with great respect. So far, he has also experienced information policy as well. For example, in normal times there is a general assembly every month with interpreters for French, English, and Arabic.