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Germany

Bundestag debates new refugee law

What laws could regulate the flow of refugees? Germany's Bundestag is debating a new law to improve the way asylum seekers are registered. While much is under discussion, some measures are already being planned.

Many areas of German asylum policy are in need of improvement. Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is currently trying to bring in new laws with the aim of imposing more order on the situation, which some are calling "refugee chaos." Statistics from the Federal Ministry of the Interior show that a total of

almost 1.1 million people seeking refuge

were counted as entering the country in 2015, but only about half a million of them have also applied for asylum.

More are believed to have come into the country without registering. There are five different government agencies that handle registration. However, their data is not compatible. They don't always use the same software, and they're not networked. So along with the unregistered people, there are also people who have been registered more than once.

A new law aims to improve data exchange. The idea is that a central data set will be created for every individual in the Central Register of Foreigners, and that in future all official departments would have access to this. In addition to personal particulars, other data would also be recorded: fingerprints, country of origin, cell phone number, information about vaccinations, X-rays and other health information, and details about their education and qualifications.

'Digitalization' of personal data

The authorities hope that collecting fingerprints will facilitate the

clear identification of individuals.

The intention is that all offices should be equipped with the fingerprint rapid-comparison system "Fast ID". This could also make it easier to make a swift comparison with data from the Federal Criminal Police Office. Germany's domestic intelligence services would not have access to the data.

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The authorities in Bavaria, for example, where the majority of refugees arrive, are already taking fingerprints. This is required by European law, so that checks can be made in accordance with the Dublin Regulation to find out whether someone has entered via a safe third country and can be sent back there. However, to date the fingerprints

cannot always be read in all areas of Germany.

Residency constraint?

The Bundestag Home Affairs Committee has discussed the law with experts in the field. A representative of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) expressly welcomed the law, because it aims to do three things: identify people unequivocally, avoid duplicate information, and improve control. The new law aims to improve control in that the dataset will also save details of the place of residence to which the asylum seeker has been assigned.

Refugees in Germany are

distributed all over the country

, according to what is known as the "Königstein Formula" which factors in population levels and tax revenues. But not all of them stay where they are sent; instead, they move away from the villages to which they were assigned and into big cities and metropolitan areas.

The government wants to put a stop to this. From February onwards it will start issuing so-called "certificates of arrival" - a bit like a refugee ID. People will only get this from the place to which they're assigned. In a second step, payment of social security benefits will also be linked to the ID.

Critics of this plan say that refugees should not be held in economically underdeveloped regions where there are hardly any jobs. This "residency constraint" will only make integration into the labor market and into society harder, says the non-governmental organization Pro Asyl.

Thomas de Maiziere with a sample ID

In December, Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere proposed IDs for refugees

Consequences of the new refugee ID

The law should, however, relieve the

pressure on the BAMF

, which started this year with a backlog of 660,000 unprocessed asylum applications. A spokesman for the BAMF said there were 900 employees dealing with registration, and that the organization was hoping for some relief. Engelhard Mazanke, the head of Berlin's Foreigners Registration Authority, which is the biggest in Germany, explained the consequences of the backlog: In Berlin it takes an average of five months before someone can even apply for asylum. A refugee ID would cover this interim period.

There were different opinions at the hearing as to what legal status is attached to the ID. The administrative law judge Hans-Hermann Schild spoke of a "de facto 'Duldung'" (temporary residence permit). Ole Schröder, parliamentary state secretary in the Ministry of the Interior, rejected this. Schild prophesied an avalanche of litigation, because a "Duldung" was also associated with other social security benefits. Furthermore, he noted that according to European law, people must be able to apply for asylum after a maximum of eight days. As yet there was no flood of lawsuits, he said, but some lawyers were already scenting possible business.

The Bundestag is to set to finish debating the law by the end of the week, and it is due to implemented nationwide from February onwards.