According to Section 24(1) of the Asylum Act, the BAMF:
“… [S]hall inform the foreigner in a language he can reasonably be supposed to understand about the course of the procedure and about his rights and duties, especially concerning deadlines and the consequences of missing a deadline.”
As a result of the outbreak of Covid-19, BAMF branch offices were closed to the public for several weeks in March and April 2020. The BAMF website contains information related to Covid-19 and different aspects of the BAMF’s tasks, including the asylum procedure. This information was updated several times in 2020 and 2021. A leaflet in German and dated 23 March 2020 can be found online which explains that the respective branch office is closed and that asylum applications can be filed through a written form in the meantime. However, is it not clear how systematically it was displayed at the BAMF branch offices. According to the BAMF, information on asylum procedures under pandemic conditions was provided in written form to applicants or their legal representatives.
Various other sections of the Asylum Act also contain obligations on the authorities to inform asylum seekers on certain aspects of the procedure. Accordingly, asylum seekers receive various information sheets when reporting to the authorities and/or upon arrival at the initial reception centre, including the following:
- An information sheet on the rights and duties during the procedure and on the proceedings in general (“Belehrung nach § 10 AsylG und allgemeine Verfahrenshinweise”);
- An instruction on the obligation to comply immediately with a referral to the competent branch office of the BAMF and to appear in person immediately or an a date determined for the formal registration of the asylum application (“Belehrung nach § 14 Abs. 1 und § 23 Abs. 2 AsylG”);
- An instruction on the obligation to comply immediately with a referral to the initial reception centre (“Belehrung nach § 20 Abs. 1 AsylG”);
- An instruction on the obligation to comply with a decision to be referred to another reception centre, including the obligation to register with the authorities in case of such a referral (“Belehrung nach § 22 Abs. 3 AsylG”).
These information sheets are available in German and around 45 other languages. In BAMF branch offices in arrival centres, a video is shown to applicants explaining the asylum procedure as well as their rights and duties.
In addition, other leaflets and publications by the BAMF are available in several languages, although they are not necessarily handed out to all asylum seekers. These include:
- Information on the appointment for the interview in the asylum procedure (Informationsblatt zum Anhörungstermin),
- Information on the asylum application (informationsblatt zur Asylantragstellung).
- The stages of the German asylum procedure (Ablauf des deutschen Asylverfahrens).
Furthermore, asylum seekers are handed out instructions concerning the Eurodac Regulation (in accordance with Article 18 of the Eurodac Regulation) and on the data collected in the course of the asylum procedure by the BAMF. These instructions are available in 44 languages.
In addition, a personal interview as foreseen in Article 5 of the Dublin III Regulation has to be conducted. This interview shall contribute to a correct understanding of the written information leaflet.
The applicant has to sign an acknowledgment of the receipt of the information leaflets. In some reception centres, further information is handed out or made available through notice boards or posters (e.g. information on the office hours of authorities, NGOs and other institutions), but there is no systematic practice for the distribution of such additional information.
It has been a long-standing criticism from lawyers and NGOs that both the written instructions and the oral briefings provided by the Federal Office are “rather abstract and standardised”. In particular, they are not considered suitable to render the significance and content of questions during interviews sufficiently understandable to applicants. In the “Memorandum to enhance fair and diligent asylum procedures in Germany”, published by an alliance of 12 German NGOs in November 2016, several deficiencies were identified in the context of the right to information. Since autumn 2015, the BAMF has developed a number of new, more accessible information products, including information on the website, leaflets explainer videos and an app for newly arrived refugees.
Oral information for asylum applicants now mainly consists of the “voluntary independent state run counselling” that was introduced with the so-called “Orderly-Return-Law”, in force since 21 August 2019 (Section 12a Asylum Act).
Counselling consists of two stages: group sessions with basic information on the asylum procedure as well as on return procedures, followed by the second stage of individual counselling sessions. While the law stipulates that the counselling can be carried out either by the Federal Office or by welfare organisations, in practice it is the BAMF which provides counselling. Government advice covers the period from the lodging of the asylum application to the explanation of a first instance decision. According to the BAMF, the staff who offer the counselling undergo a one-week training and are “organisationally separated from the asylum area”.
Procedure counselling was first introduced in a pilot project together with welfare associations. It was then established first in all AnkER and functionally equivalent centres and has been rolled out to the rest of the BAMF branch offices since 2020. As of March 2021, counselling was available in 44 BAMF branch offices with 120 full-time staff allocated to the service. Counselling on the asylum procedure provided by the BAMF was suspended together with all in-person activities at branch offices on 23 March 2020. According to the BAMF website, it was re-introduced from mid-May 2020 onwards. EASO reports that the group counselling sessions were also held online in 2020 and in especially equipped rooms in 2020. According to the BAMF, general information on the asylum procedure was given via telephone or digital means in individual cases. Over the course of 2020, stage 1 counselling was provided to 13,701 persons and stage 2 individual counselling to 1,141 persons. In 2021, the numbers increase substantially for stage 1 group counselling (25,784) but not to the same degree for stage 2 counselling (1,928).
The BAMF counselling sessions represent an improvement compared to the situation prior to August 2019 when no information was systematically provided to asylum seekers. Nevertheless, the new system is heavily criticised by NGOs as group counselling sessions tend to be organised within a very short period before the personal interview with the BAMF and the information provided is limited (i.e. the BAMF tends to provide general information on the asylum procedure, sometimes focusing only on asylum seekers’ obligations and also on information which has nothing to do with the procedure, such as the so-called “return options”).
Welfare associations further criticise that counselling by the same authority which decides on the asylum application cannot be independent, especially since part of the counselling given by non-state actors also involves possibilities to appeal the BAMF decisions. Furthermore, they argue that many asylum seekers find it difficult to trust authorities based on experiences in their countries of origin, but that trust in the person and organisation providing the counselling is essential for effective advice.
While the law does foresee the advice services of the second stage to be carried out by welfare organisations, the government has made it clear that it does not intend to commission NGOs to carry out an advice service on its behalf. Rather, it claims that welfare organisations are free to run their own services alongside the counselling offered by the BAMF. At the same time, NGOs have voiced concerns that funding of independent advice centers could be jeopardised as they might be replaced by the BAMF services. In a press release of November 2019, the “AMBA”-network, which has been providing independent advice services in several reception centres in Lower Saxony for many years, referred to government officials who had stated that the BAMF was willing to cooperate with NGO advice services, but that public funding would not be available any longer for NGO advice services, since advice on asylum procedures was now considered to be a government task. In particular, funding which had been provided through the AMIF programme, was now at risk, according to AMBA. The government confirmed in May 2020 that counselling services by NGOs would no longer be funded through the AMIF programme. Similarly, in Saxony, the German Red Cross stopped providing counselling services on 30 June 2020 due to lack of funding from the State government. As mentioned above, the new coalition proposal of November 2021 suggests that asylum procedure counselling should be offered by independent organisations instead of the BAMF (see Overview of the Main Changes), but it remains to be seen if this will be implemented in practice.
Another point of criticism is that the law does not specify when the individual counselling of the so-called second stage is supposed to take place. Thus, it is not guaranteed that the individual counselling will take place before the asylum interview. This may contradict the purpose of individual asylum counselling whose core function lies in the preparation of the asylum seeker for his or her interview.
In addition to the counselling services as regulated by the asylum act, asylum seekers are orally informed about “the significance and the proceedings of the interview” and they are instructed about their rights and obligations at the beginning of the interview. However, the oral briefing at the beginning of the interview is described as “formulaic” or “cursory”. In some cases, it is carried out by translators only, so the content of the briefing cannot be controlled.
Finally, access to information at the airport is described as particularly difficult, inter alia due to the speed of the procedure. Asylum seekers reportedly undergo the airport procedure without understanding the applicable rules and steps.
 Information provided by the BAMF, 10 March 2022.
 BAMF, DA-Asyl (Dienstanweisung Asylverfahren) – Belehrungen (internal directives of the BAMF), parts of these directives, as at October 2016, were made available by the BAMF upon request: BAMF, Email of 27 February 2017.
 Amnesty International et al., ed. Memorandum zur derzeitigen Situation des deutschen Asylverfahrens (Memoranda on current situation of the German asylum procedure), 2005, 21.
 Memorandum Alliance, Memorandum für faire und sorgfältige Asylverfahren in Deutschland. Standards zur Integrate any of this?Gewährleistung der asylrechtlichen Verfahrensgarantien, November 2016, 14.
 Janne Grote, ‘The Changing Influx of Asylum Seekers in 2014-2016: Responses in Germany’.
Focussed Study by the German National Contact Point for the European Migration Network (EMN), October 2017, p. 39, study available in English at https://bit.ly/33iJAO8.
 For more background information on the introduction of asylum procedure counselling and the role of NGOs and welfare associations see the 2019 AIDA Update on Germany. The internal evaluation report of the pilot project is available online at https://bit.ly/3FC8LYK
 BAMF, ‘Weitere Themen (Stand: 20.12.). Informationen zu den Auswirkungen des Corona-Virus (COVID-19), die im Zusammenhang mit dem Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge (BAMF) stehen’, available in German at https://bit.ly/3GirutF
 Information provided by the BAMF, 10 March 2022.
 Information provided by the BAMF, 10 March 2022.
 Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft der Freien Wohlfahrtspflege, ‘Bundesgeförderte, qualifizierte und behördenunabhängige Asylverfahrensberatung (§ 12a Asylgesetz). Neue gesetzliche Aufgaben der Wohlfahrtsverbände’, September 2019, 2, available in German at https://bit.ly/3fyGqIg
 Federal government, response to information request by The Left, 26 May 2020, 19/19535, 3.
 AMBA (Aufnahmemanagement und Beratung für Asylsuchende in Niedersachsen) is a network of the welfare organisations Caritas, Diakonie, several local NGOs and the Refugee Council of Lower Saxony. Over the years, member organisation of the network have run advice services for asylum seekers in reception centres at Friedland, Braunschweig, Osnabrück, Oldenburg and Bramsche; further information available at: https://bit.ly/31ZDwae.
 Federal Government, response to information request by The Left, 26 May 2020, 19/19535, 8.
 Wiebke Judith, Druck auf die Länder? Lex AnkER im „II. Hau-Ab-Gesetz“ in: Informationsverbund Asyl und Migration (ed), Das Migrationspaket: Beilage zum Asylmagazin 8-9/2019, September 2017, 76.
 BAMF, Das deutsche Asylverfahren – ausführlich erklärt. Zuständigkeiten, Verfahren, Statistiken, Rechtsfolgen (The German asylum procedures – an elaborate explanation. Responsibilities, Procedures, Statistics, Consequences), December 2012. 17.
 Memorandum Alliance, Memorandum für faire und sorgfältige Asylverfahren in Deutschland. Standards zur Gewährleistung der asylrechtlichen Verfahrensgarantien, November 2016, 14.