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Refugee family reunification in Germany - what you need to know

At the heart of protracted coalition talks in Germany, refugee family reunification remains a major sticking point. DW explains how the process works – and why critics want to lift the current 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 slowed down the process. But after the country's general election in September, the issue has taken on an even more critical dimension.

With Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party CSU, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Green party still trying to come together to form a coalition government after four weeks without compromise, family reunification remains a major sticking point – particularly for the CSU.

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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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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 do the CDU and CSU want to implement?

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

- CSU leader Horst Seehofer has made it clear in the ongoing coalition negotiations that his party will accept nothing less than a complete end to automatic family reunification. Bavaria is on the frontline of the refugee crisis as the border point on the Balkan Route.

- Seehofer has accused the Green party of stalling a coalition agreement with its pro-reunification stance.

- Chancellor Merkel has been muted on the subject, but other CDU politicians have expressed opinions similar to Seehofer. CDU leader for the state of Thuringia, Mike Mohring, has expressed concerns about the negative impact of too much immigration on the German labor market.

- CDU parliamentarian Armin Schuster has suggested that the government should introduce a cap on the number of arrivals each year. He told weekly 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."

-Public broadcaster SWR has suggested that the reason Merkel and the CSU may be so keen to take a tighter stance is the sucess of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which garnered 13 percent of the vote in September's election. Conservative politicians may be trying to wrest their voters back from the far right.

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

What do the Greens want?

- With the support of many prominents rights NGOs, the Green party wants to reintroduce family reunification as quickly as possible after the moratorium expires in March.

- Ahead of the election, party co-chair Katrin Göring-Eckardt, said refugees could integrate more successfully if they didn't have to worry about the safety of their loved ones.

- In coalition talks, the Green party has been pushing for reunification even for asylum seekers with reduced protection status.

-One prominent Green politician, Tübingen Mayor Boris Palmer, has said that the Greens need to compromise so that Gemany doesn't have a minority government or need to call fresh elections. Palmer said that he party needs to be realistic about how many people Germany can help.

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