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Refugee family reunification in Germany - what you need to know

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere wants to extend the temporary ban on family reunification for refugees in the country. DW explains how the process works – and why critics want to lift the ban permanently.

Fleeing war and coming to Germany as a refugee is not an easy step. After their arrival, one of the highest priorities for refugees from Syria, Iraq or northern Africa is to bring their family from the dangerous war zones they're in to their new, safe home in Germany.

In spring 2016, the German government passed a new regulation on family reunification, which protracts the process. And now leading members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) have suggested further restrictions. Read on to learn more about the process and how it may be affected after Germany's federal election on September 24.

How does family reunification work?

In general, someone who has been granted asylum or refugee status has the right to bring immediate family members to Germany as well, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Immediate family members include the spouse, children and – only if the refugee is a minor – siblings and parents. The family member who traveled to Germany has to apply for family reunification as soon as possible after having been granted asylum. They don't need to prove that they can support themselves or that they have adequate living space as a precondition for family members entering the country.

Family members also have to apply for family reunification in the German embassy in their country of residence. They technically have to do so within three months after asylum has been granted to their relation. But getting appointments with embassy officials can take longer than this. After the three months are up, it is up to the officials in charge to decide whether the right to family reunification is still granted.

Read more: What you need to know about the EU migrant relocation and resettlement scheme

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Refugees and the battle against bureaucracy

What are the restrictions?

A two-year suspension on family reunifications was introduced last year for persons entitled to subsidiary protection. 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 persecuted.

Refugees who were officially granted this protection after March 17, 2016, now have to wait until March 16, 2018, before they can even apply for family reunification.

What rules does the CDU want to implement?

A big question is what the rule should be after March 2018.

- Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to come forward with a statement on whether she would uphold the ban if she stays in power after the elections.

- Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere (CDU) wants to extend the ban on family reunifications for refugees under subsidiary protection.

- CDU parliamentarian Armin Schuster has suggested that the government should introduce a cap on the number of arrivals each year. He told newspaper Welt am Sonntag: "If we see that more refugees come into the country than expected, family reunifications will have to be curtailed. If the opposite is the case, the number could be increased, too, of course."

Read more: Two years since Germany opened its borders to refugees - A chronology

What do the critics say?

NGOs and opposition parties want to get rid of the ban as soon as possible.

- Refugee aid organization Pro Asyl calls the ban on family reunifications an "inhumane" rule that could have lethal consequences for the family members forced to remain in war zones.

- The Green party's leading candidate for the upcoming election, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, said refugees could integrate more successfully if they didn't have to worry about the safety of their loved ones.

- Katja Kipping, leader of the Left party, strongly criticized the conservatives' idea to make family reunifications dependent on how many migrants have already entered the country: "[This proposal] is diametrically opposed to the family values purported in CDU family policies, which apparently don't apply to refugees."

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