German lawmakers debate how to deal with refugees′ families | News | DW | 19.01.2018
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German lawmakers debate how to deal with refugees' families

Parliamentarians are grappling with a new law to reunite families with migrants who have fled dire circumstances, but who don't have refugee status. Both the left and the right have concerns about its implementation.

A new law that would lift the suspension of family reunifications for migrants with so-called "subsidiary" status has been praised by senior figures in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and welcomed by the center-left Social Democrats. Every other party in the German Bundestag, however, found room for scrutiny. 

In March 2016, the government introduced a two-year suspension on family reunifications for persons only entitled to subsidiary protection, a lower-level refugee status that falls short of full asylum. 

Read more: Refugee family reunification in Germany - what you need to know

Many refugees from Syria, for example, were only granted subsidiary protection because they were fleeing from a civil war, but couldn't prove they had been personally persecuted, as required for asylum status under the Geneva Convention.

Watch video 03:37

Refugees and the battle against bureaucracy

However, with the suspension officially set to expire in March, the new law would allow a maximum of 1,000 additional migrants per month to enter Germany from July onwards, provided they are direct relatives of a refugee already in the country.

Center-left SPD on the same page

On Friday, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told the Bundestag that the proposed new law was a "reasonable and moderate regulation," and that he had the "firm intention" to see it come into effect. 

"Permanent suspension is not a solution, and permanent permissiveness is not a solution either," he added.

Read more: Alaa Houd: Going back to Syria is not an option

The deputy chair of the Social Democrats' (SPD) parliamentary group, Eva Högl, urged the Bundestag to ensure that the new law swiftly comes into effect, stressing that it should be "firmly anchored" to a specific date, namely July 31, and that nothing should prevent its implementation.

Högl also insisted that those who have previously had an application for a family reunification denied should be allowed to reapply as soon as the suspension officially expires.

The Free Democrats, meanwhile, advocated a continued general suspension but insisted that families should always be allowed to immigrate to Germany in extreme circumstances, even if that number exceeds the monthly threshold of 1,000 migrants granted subsidiary status under the new law.

AfD lambasts 'senseless' scheme

However, doubts remained concerning the soundness of the new law, mainly among Merkel's Bavarian sister-party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) - which has called for a more hardline migration policy- and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The conservative Union's internal affairs expert Stephan Mayer of the CSU was more tepid towards the new law, emphasizing that most of the subsidiary-protected refugees would have to leave Germany once the civil war in Syria was over. This family reunification law, he said, was not part of a "long-term and sustainable integration" scheme.

The AfD took those criticisms of the family reunifications law one step further, with Bundestag member Martin Sichert slamming Germany's asylum system for having become a tool for "mass immigration."

Because subsidiary migrants would be forced to leave Germany again in the medium term, "a family reunification scheme doesn't make any sense," Sichert said.

Read more: Germany's far-right AfD targets refugees in first bill before parliament

Law falls short, say left-leaning parties 

Germany's Greens and Left Party decried the policy's suspension two years ago and spoke out against it only being reinstated in limited capacity this year.

It was "unrealistic and unfounded" to limit the annual number of relatives entering Germany, said Green party leader  Katrin Göring-Eckardt.

"Human rights had gone on to become a privilege. That's not what Germany is about," she said. 

Left Party lawmaker Ulla Jelpke, meanwhile, accused the SPD of making a "foul compromise" with the conservatives, adding that any limits of family reunification risked dividing society and hampering integration.

Watch video 12:06

Refugee children: Alone in Germany

dm/kms (dpa, Reuters, epd)

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