The year 2019 was marked by an extensive reform of German asylum and migration legislation. Seven laws were enacted as part of the so-called “migration package” in July 2019 and introduced numerous changes to the Asylum Act (Asylgesetz), the Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz), the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act (Asylbewerberleistungsgesetz) and several other accompanying laws. Some of the most notable amendments include the following:
- Provision of information: A state-run counselling service for asylum-seekers shall be established in all initial reception centres. This service is supposed to provide general information to asylum seekers about the proceedings but it does not amount to legal advice.
- Medical reports: Medical grounds brought forward in the asylum procedure must now be verified through a comprehensive medical certificate.
- Obligation to stay in initial reception centres: In general, asylum seekers are now obliged to stay in initial reception centres (Aufnahmeeinrichtungen) for a maximum period of 18 months. Some exceptions which allow for an extension of this period for certain groups of asylum seekers (especially persons from safe countries of origin) remain in place. An important new exception applies to children and their families, for whom a maximum period of six months is now foreseen. Prior to the amendment, the duration of stay in initial reception centres had been limited to 6 months for most asylum seekers.
- Access to the labour market: Asylum seekers who are obliged to stay in initial reception centres are excluded from the labour market for a period of nine months.
- Access to benefits: Asylum seekers’ benefits have been reduced for single adult persons living in collective accommodation centres. Access to social benefits has improved for asylum seekers who start vocational training.
- Reduction and withdrawal of benefits: Authorities may reduce and even withdraw asylum seekers’ benefits based on a range of newly introduced reasons. For example, reductions may now be imposed for the following groups:
- asylum seekers who do not immediately apply for asylum following their arrival in Germany;
- asylum seekers who do not comply with obligations in connection with the clarification of their identities (e.g. obligation to be fingerprinted and obligation to hand over smartphones);
- asylum seekers who do not comply with the obligation to stay in a place of residence assigned to them by the authorities;
- a complete withdrawal of benefits is now possible for asylum seekers who have been granted international protection in another European state.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Grounds for detention: The authorities continued to face criticism for their failure to carry out deportations as a total of 32,482 deportations (i.e. returns or Dublin transfers) which had been scheduled in 2019 did not take place. The government was unable to state the reasons for the failure of deportations in the overwhelming majority of cases. Nevertheless, the focus in the political debate remained on deportations which supposedly failed as a result of absconding. As a result, a reform was carried in August 2019 to improve the enforcement of the obligation to leave the country. The new measures include (i) increased powers for law enforcement authorities to access apartments for the purpose of deportation; (ii) new criteria to order detention based on an alleged risk of absconding – such as the refusal to cooperate in obtaining travel documents or the non-compliance with instructions of the authorities.(iii) a new ground for detention to enforce the ‘obligation to cooperate’ with the authorities’ and (iv) the possibility to hold pre-removal detainees in regular prisons until June 2022.
Content of international protection
- Place of residence for beneficiaries of international protection: The obligation for persons with protection status to take up residence in a particular Federal State or town for three years (Wohnsitzregelung pursuant to Section 12a Residence Act) has become permanent. This provision had been introduced in 2016 as a temporary measure and was supposed to run out in 2019, but it has been extended permanently instead.
Other legal issues
In addition to these legislative developments, several issues with a crucial impact on the outcome of many asylum procedures were of high importance in 2019. Some of the most prominent are:
- Family reunification: Significant problems were noted in the context of family reunification of asylum seekers living in another European state (such as Greece and Italy) with family members in Germany pursuant to the provisions of the Dublin regulation. Several issues are also reported in family reunification procedures with family members trying to join a beneficiary of protection in Germany. This includes a lack of coordination among the relevant authorities (i.e. local authorities, the Federal Administrative Office, embassies, consulates, IOM), an increase in the number of pending family reunification procedures, and waiting periods that can reach up to a year or more. The length of family reunification procedures raises particular concern when it comes to unaccompanied children, as Courts have argued that their right to family reunification may end once they become adults. Nevertheless, courts have also repeatedly urged the authorities to prioritise family reunification procedures of unaccompanied minors who are about to turn 18 years old.
- Legal issues were reported concerning persons who have been granted international protection in another European State and admissibility of asylum applications of these persons.
- Revocation and withdrawal of protection status: A new provision introduced in 2019 has extended the period for so-called “revocation examination procedures” from three years to four or five years after a protection status has been granted. This affects cases in which protection status was granted between 2015 and 2017. In 2019, the BAMF carried out 170,406 of these “revocation examination procedures”, which doubles the number of such procedures recorded in 2018 (85,502) and marks an enormous increase compared to 2017 where only 2,527 revocation procedures were carried out. In the vast majority of the 2019 “revocation examination procedures”, the BAMF found no reason to revoke or withdraw the protection statuses (96.7%). However, the total number of revocation or withdrawal decisions must not be underestimated as it concerned a total of 5,610 persons in 2019.
High proportion of “family protection” cases
Around 80% of persons recognised as refugees in Germany in 2019 were granted protection status because they were family members (spouses or minor children) of a person who had been granted protection status before. The proportion of such “family projection” decisions has increased dramatically in recent years. In more than 50% of these cases, protection was granted to children who were born in Germany.
The high percentage of asylum procedures which were carried out for children born in Germany also had an impact on asylum statistics. Since the autumn of 2019, the Federal Ministry of the Interior distinguishes between the total number of (first) asylum applications and the number of “formal border-crossing applications”. The new statistics show that more than 31,000 applications were lodged for children born in Germany. Accordingly, out of the total number of 142,509 applications, only 111,094 asylum applications are considered to be “border crossing” applications.