BERLIN: Growing numbers of elderly and sick Germans are being sent overseas for long-term care in retirement and rehabilitation centres due to rising costs and falling standards in Germany.
The rehousing of thousands of retired Germans in homes in eastern Europe and Asia has been severely criticised by social welfare organisations as ''inhumane deportation''.
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But with increasing numbers of Germans unable to afford the cost of retirement homes and an ageing and shrinking population, the number expected to be sent abroad in the next few years is only likely to rise.
Germany's care industry suffers from a lack of workers and soaring costs, but for years the crisis has been mitigated by eastern Europeans migrating to Germany to care for the country's elderly. But the transfer of old people to eastern Europe indicates that even with imported, cheaper workers, the system is unworkable.
The Sozialverband Deutschland, a socio-political advisory group, said growing numbers of Germans were unable to afford the cost of a retirement home in their own country, which sent a huge ''alarm signal''. It has called for political intervention.
''We simply cannot let those people who built Germany up to be what it is, who put their backbones into it all their lives, be deported,'' said the group's president, Ulrike Mascher.
''It is inhumane.''
Researchers found an estimated 7146 German pensioners living in retirement homes in Hungary in 2011. More than 3000 had been sent to the Czech Republic and there were more than 600 in Slovakia and unknown numbers in Spain, Greece, Ukraine, Thailand and the Philippines.
Germany's federal bureau of statistics says more than 400,000 senior citizens are unable to afford a German retirement home, a figure growing by about 5 per cent a year.
The reasons are rising care-home costs, stagnating pensions and longer life expectancy. As a result, the statutory insurers that make up Germany's state insurance system are openly discussing how to make care in foreign retirement homes into a long-term workable financial model.
European Union law prevents state insurers signing contracts directly with overseas homes, but that is likely to change as legislators are forced to find ways to respond to Europe's ageing population.
Critics of the trend have voiced particular worries about patients with dementia.
The head of Germany's Alzheimer's Society, Sabine Jansen, said surroundings and language were often of paramount importance to those with dementia looking to cling to their identity.
''In particular, people with dementia can find it difficult to orientate themselves in a wholly other culture with a completely different language, because they're very much living in an old world consisting of their earlier memories,'' she said.
With Germany's population expected to shrink from almost 82 million to about 69 million by 2050, one in every 15 - about 4.7 million people - are expected to need care, meaning the problem is likely to worsen.
Artur Frank, the owner of Senior Palace, which finds care homes for Germans in Slovakia, said it was wrong to suggest senior citizens were being ''deported''.
''They are not being deported or expelled,'' he said. ''Many are here of their own free will and these are the results of sensible decisions by their families who know they will be better off.''
Guardian News & Media