Immigration Policy

Coping with the Refugee Influx

syrian refugees protesting for faster admission_dpa
Syrian refugees camp outside the foreign office in the German city of Dortmund to demand for faster admission processing of their asylum applications.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    With around 450,000 asylum seekers expected to arrive in Germany in 2015, the states and municipalities need both financial and process support from Berlin.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of Germany’s states have agreed to deport rejected asylum-seekers faster.
    • Government officials also want to accelerate the asylum-application process.
    • Ms. Merkel is seeking an agreement among the 28 countries of the European Union for a fair distribution of refugees.
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    Audio

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Germany’s federal and state governments want to accelerate the asylum-application process and to deport rejected asylum-seekers faster.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of the states reached the agreement last Thursday in Berlin.

At the moment, this mainly impacts asylum-seekers from the Balkans, whose applications are almost never accepted.

For those refugees who do have a chance of remaining in Germany, politicians want their integration into society and the labor market to proceed more quickly and intensively. Syrians fleeing civil war and persecution in their country currently make up a large number of asylum seekers in Germany.

Germany is expecting around 450,000 people to seek asylum in the country this year, a massive increase on the already huge figure of 200,000 refugees in 2014.

For all these measures ― asylum application, quicker deportation and efforts at integration ― the number of personnel is to be increased at both the state and federal levels. The evaluation process will be concentrated at four decision-making centers to facilitate faster processing. The goal is to return rejected asylum-seekers to their home countries within three months.

“European inaction in the face of the worldwide refugee crisis is deadly.”

Selmin Caliskan, General secretary for Germany, Amnesty International

The government said it would effectively double its federal assistance to states and municipalities to €1 billion, made up of €500 million that was already budgeted for 2015, and another €500 million that had originally been earmarked for 2016.

A statement released by the German Interior Ministry following the talks included a pledge that beginning in 2016, the federal government would contribute “structurally and sustainably to the total public costs that are created in connection with the number of asylum seekers requiring protection and refugees.”

The Interior Ministry also released a statement after the meeting with the states, saying that from 2016 onwards it would contribute to refugee-related public costs “in a structured, sustainable way.”

This means certain measures ― for example, apartment construction and training for refugees ― will be at least partly financed by the federal budget over the long term. A concrete agreement is to be reached by the fall between the states and Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière of the Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Brandenburg premier Dietmar Woidke, a Social Democrat, said the promised sum of €500 million for 2016 is clearly too little.

What is certain is the federal government will open its foreigner-integration courses to those asylum seekers and people with permission to stay in Germany for humanitarian reasons who are defined as having a “positive chance of remaining.” Up to now, the courses have been offered only to recognized asylum-seekers. It is still unclear whether the offer will amount to 600 hours of language instruction, as the states are calling for.

On the medical side, it will be now be possible for the states to pay for refugees’ visits to the doctor through health-insurance funds ― in other words, a health-insurance card can be issued to them. The medical service will continue to be restricted to the framework of the law that regulates services provided to asylum-seekers.

At the moment, asylum-seekers during their application process can seek medical assistance only in the case of acute illness, but they need approval from authorities for this. This restriction has long been criticized by refugee-aid and human-rights organizations, because no preventive care is possible and diseases might become more severe and expensive to treat.

“Germany continues to be willing to do its part. But we are making it unmistakably clear that all member states must implement and apply the common European asylum system to the same extent.”

Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

Before her meeting with the state leaders, Ms. Merkel had insisted on rapid agreement among the 28 countries of the European Union, on the fair distribution of the refugees arriving in Europe. In a government statement on Thursday, she said it cannot continue to be the case that three quarters of all refugees are handled by only five E.U. countries.

“Germany continues to be willing to do its part. But we are making it unmistakably clear that all member states must implement and apply the common European asylum system to the same extent.”

Amnesty International has also criticized the European policy. The organization’s general secretary for Germany, Selmin Caliskan, said Europe currently offers only about 5,000 permanent residence places for refugees, adding: “With half a million asylum applications last year, Europe lags far behind its potential and responsibility. European inaction in the face of the worldwide refugee crisis is deadly.”

Up to now, the E.U. has “failed miserably” in responding to one of the 21st century’s greatest challenges, he said. According to current United Nations figures, at least 60 million people worldwide are fleeing their home countries, more than at any time since World War II.

The Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which has been engaged in grassroots work against xenophobia for 13 years, called on municipalities to act as well.

In a 10-point plan titled “Germany Must Become a Receptive Society,” the foundation called upon officials in cities and communities to establish networks of local companies, labor unions, refugee-rights initiatives and housing associations that can absorb new arrivals and influence opinion for the refugees’ benefit.

 

This story first appeared in the German daily Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the authors: andrea.dernbach@tagesspiegel.de and albert.funk@tagesspiegel.de

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