An asylum seeker argued that the centre was too crowded to respect social distancing rules
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By Karolin Schaps
AMSTERDAM, April 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A German court has ruled that an asylum seeker should be allowed to leave the holding centre where he was staying after he argued it was too crowded to respect coronavirus distancing rules, a decision refugee campaigners called "ground-breaking".
The man, who was not named by the court, said he had to share a room of four square metres (43 square feet) with another person and had to share toilets, showers and a kitchen with 49 other residents.
This made it impossible for him to keep the required distance of 1.5 metres, he told the court in the eastern German city of Leipzig in Saxony.
"It is especially important to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within asylum centres," the court said in a statement late Wednesday, adding that the man's age made him more vulnerable.
The state government for Saxony did not respond to a request for comment.
It was the first case in Germany to test refugee rights in the coronavirus crisis, but campaigners said more were pending in the courts.
"This is a ground-breaking decision," said the Refugee Council of Saxony in a statement. "And yet it confirms the self-evident ... This ruling means nothing less than that the state needs to close group accommodation for asylum seekers."
The group estimates there are about 2,000 people living in asylum centres in Saxony.
When asylum seekers first arrive in Germany they have to remain in the area they are assigned to for anywhere between six weeks and six months.
ProAsyl, a German NGO providing legal and practical assistance to asylum seekers, confirmed this was the first successful case of its kind in Germany.
Poor living conditions in refugee centres worldwide have heightened concerns about the virus spreading in vulnerable communities.
The United Nations has said there have been 10 confirmed cases of coronavirus among refugees and asylum seekers in Germany.
Refugee camps where residents have tested positive for the virus have been evacuated or placed under quarantine in other parts of Europe, highlighting the precariousness of refugees dependent on the care of receiving countries.
The asylum seeker is one of four who have filed urgent cases in local courts, said local member of parliament Juliane Nagel of Germany's left-leaning party Die Linke.
"We demand the government of Saxony imminently rehouse all asylum seekers. Refugees also have the right to protect their health," she said.
(Reporting by Karolin Schaps; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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