According to Section 24(1) of the Asylum Act, the BAMF:
‘… [S]hall inform the foreigner early on 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, and about possibilities to return voluntarily.’
The provision was changed with the entry into force of the Act on the acceleration of asylum court proceedings and asylum procedures on 1 January 2023. The reform introduced the requirement of informing applicants “early on” instead of “after the lodging of the asylum application”, which was the previous wording. Information is to be provided orally in groups (see Oral information). Another change introduced by the reform is the duty to inform not only about the asylum procedure, but also about possibilities to return voluntarily after the rejection of the asylum application.
For the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on information provision to asylum applicants see the 2021 Update to the AIDA Country Report for Germany.
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’), to be handed out by the authority where an applicant first voices the wish to apply for asylum (the border police, the local immigration authority, the police, the reception centre or the BAMF; see Making and registering the application);
- 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 at 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 44 other languages. In BAMF branch offices in arrival centres, a video available in six languages 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 systematically 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.
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. In addition, the provision of oral information has become more systematic through the introduction of state-run counselling (see below).
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). With the entry into force of the Act on the acceleration of asylum court proceedings and asylum procedures on 1 January 2023, the state-run counselling is to replaced by independent counselling, financed by the Federal Government but carried out by welfare associations or ‘other civil society actors’. This is in line with long-standing demands form welfare associations (see below). The BAMF will continue to carry out the first stage of counselling as described below, whereas independent organisations will carry out individual counselling. At the time of writing of this report, the timeline for the rollout of the new counselling services was not clear. The BAMF published a call for expressions of interest to benefit from the EUR 20 million of financing foreseen for 2023 on 31 January 2023.
Throughout 2022, counselling of asylum seekers was done by the BAMF, and this is to continue until the new system is established. 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. 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 31 December 2022, counselling was available in 46 BAMF branch offices.Throughout 2022, 37,644 applicants took part in the first stage counselling, while 3,147 received individual counselling (second stage). This is an increase in comparison to 2021 (1,928 individual sessions, while 25,784 persons took part in group sessions), but still shows that only around 15% of the 244,132 persons who applied for asylum in 2022 (see Statistics) received individual advice. More information on counselling during the Covid-19 outbreak can be found in the 2021 Update to the AIDA Country Report for Germany.
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 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. Civil society actors also criticised that the introduction of BAMF counselling led to funding cuts for NGO-led advice services.
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 their 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.
 Official Gazette I no. Nr. 56 (2022) of 28 December 2022, 2817.
 As of January, these were Albanian, Amharic, Arabic. Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bambara, Bosnian, Burmese, Chinese, Dari, English, Farsi, French, Fulani, Georgian, Hausa, Hindi, Italian, Croatian, Kurdish-Badinani, Kurdish-Kurmanji, Kurdish-Sorani, Kurdish-Zaza, Lingala, Macedonian, Mongolian, Nepali, Oromo, Pashto, Punjabi, Russian, Serbian, Sinhalese, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, Tigrinya, Turkish, Twi, Uyghur, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Wolof.
 According to information provided by the BAMF on 9 March 2023, the leaflets ‘can be handed out to the foreigner in case of individual need within the framework of the asylum procedure counselling or the information in group discussions’.
 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, 39, study available in English at https://bit.ly/33iJAO8.
 Official Gazette I no. Nr. 56 (2022) of 28 December 2022, 2817.
 SPD, BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN and FDP, Draft Act on the Acceleration of asylum court proceedings and asylum procedures, 20/4327, 8 November 2022, 22.
 SPD, BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN and FDP, Draft Act on the Acceleration of asylum court proceedings and asylum procedures, 20/4327, 8 November 2022, 28.
 Federal Ministry of the Interior, Response to written question by Clara Bünger (The Left), 13 January 2023.
 Information provided by the BAMF, 9 March 2023. 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.
 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.
 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.