Social Work as a Human Rights Profession in Theory and Practice: Alice Salomon University Response to Violations of Refugees‘ Human Rights in Germany

Nivedita Prasad

Prof. Dr. Nivedita Prasad is a professor at the Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences, who is very engaged in the activities of the school in an asylum seekers’ accommodation in their neighbourhood. Since 2010 she is the director of the German Master’s program “Social Work as a Human Rights Profession”.


This article focuses on human rights abuses encountered by refugees in Germany and other countries of the European Union, which are frequently witnessed by social workers in the field – but seldom analysed using UN human rights as a source of reference. I describe this and other core elements and resources for an understanding of social work as a human rights profession and apply them to the situation of refugees in Germany, introducing minimum standards that states must fulfil in order to guarantee a human rights based approach towards refugees. Activities of the Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences in the context of an asylum seekers’ accommodation in Berlin in response to racist attacks against refugees in the same neighbourhood are described as an example of he use of structural power. The activities (classes in the accommodation facility, counselling for refugees, raising public awareness, critical monitoring, –interpreting services, etc.) show how universities can take up social responsibility in their communities, thus making the political mandate of social work visible and the gap between theory and practice negligible. This raises the question of whether these activities can be seen in the tradition of the Hull-House and generates questions for further discussion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) contains 26 human rights, of which 24 have been codified in UN conventions, and thus justifiable through complaint mechanisms and monitoring bodies. Shamefully one can determine that one of the two rights that have never been codified in a binding document by the international community is the Right to Seek Asylum as stated in Article 14.1 of the UDHR. The implication of this failure is that asylum seekers can refer to their violated human rights and also take action against such violations, but they cannot claim a right to actually seek asylum. Their access to justice and protection depends on their immigration status. If they do not have a legal immigration status the state has basically nothing to offer them.


social work, Alice Salomon, refugees, human rights

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