Background: After the 1968 United Nations International Conference on Human Rights, access to family planning services became a human right. Such a service is of central importance to women's empowerment and is empirically needed to provide adequate healthcare. For registered refugees and asylum seekers in Germany complementary family planning services, including all forms of contraception, are free of charge. Yet, the success of these services remains unclear. The aim of this study is to describe the current reproductive health status of female refugees and to provide an initial overview of their existing unmet family planning and contraception needs.
Methods: Over the course of 2 years, from December 2015 to December 2017, a set of 50 female-only discussion groups were conducted in community shelters for registered refugees in Berlin. A total of 410 women between the ages of 14 and 74 participated. A convenience sampling strategy was then applied and a total of 307 semi-structured questionnaires covering 41 items related to demographic data and women's health were distributed to volunteering female participants over the age of 17. The statistical analysis of the questionnaires was performed using SPSS (IBM, PASW, Version 24). P-values less than or equal to 0.05 were considered statistically significant.
Results: Of the 307 participants, the majority were from Syria and Afghanistan (30% respectively). The mean age was 33 years (range: 18-63). On average, each woman had 2.5 births (range: 0-10). Twenty-four women (8%) were pregnant and fifty-four of the women (18%) were trying to become pregnant. The majority of women were classified as "requiring contraception" (n = 195; 63%) of which 183 gave further information on if and how they used family planning methods. The calculated unmet need for family planning in this group was 47%. Of the remaining 53% of the women who used contraception, many utilised "traditional" methods (34% withdrawal method; 8% calendar method) which have a pearl index of 4-18 and can therefore be classified as rather insufficient birth control methods. Intrauterine contraceptive devices were used by 30%.
Conclusion: Our study revealed that despite the provision of complementary family planning services, there remains unmet family planning and education needs in the female refugee community in Berlin. This study indicates that there is a major access gap to these services. Further research needs to be carried out to evaluate the access gap and clearly identify and implement action plans to address possible causes such as language barriers, lack of childcare and traumatic experiences.