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German Cabinet approves new family reunification law

May 9, 2018

The German Cabinet has approved legislation allowing refugees with so-called "subsidiary" status to bring their direct relatives to Germany. The finer details have exposed deep divisions within the governing coalition.

Asylum-seekers in Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Thissen

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet on Wednesday voted to resettle an additional 1,000 migrants per month, provided they are the direct relatives of refugees already living in Germany.

The issue of migrant family reunifications has been a major sticking point in parliament and has exposed deep divisions inside Merkel's governing coalition.

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

What does the new family reunification law grant?

Beginning August 1, the new migrant family reunification law will:

  • Expand the right to family reunification to refugees living in Germany with lower-level "subsidiary" protection, a status that falls short of full asylum and doesn't grant indefinite stay.
  • Grant an additional 1,000 refugees per month the right to settle in Germany, provided they have relatives with subsidiary status already living in the country.
  • Allow only refugees' spouses, unmarried minors and the parents of minors already in Germany qualify for the scheme.
  • Give priority to humanitarian cases, such as those affecting young children, the seriously ill or people facing political persecution.
  • Carry over unfulfilled quotas from one month to the next, although only for the first five months.
  • Under exceptional circumstances, even allow migrants in Germany flagged as potential Islamists to apply for family reunification, provided they can prove to authorities that neither they nor their relatives will pose a threat.

Read more: Hoping for family reunification: 'I need my wife to start again'

Where the parties stand

Back in February, the Bundestag passed legislation to reintroduce family reunifications for lower-level migrants, following a two-year suspension. The three parties that ultimately ended up forming the new coalition — Merkel's Christian Democrats, their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democrats (SPD) — all agreed on setting the monthly quota at 1,000.

However, provisions allowing potential terror suspects to apply have prompted outrage inside some parts of the CSU. Michael Friese, a CSU parliamentarian, accused the SPD of allowing an additional contingent of migrants to enter through a "back door."

On the left, the Greens and Left Party have decried the new regulations for being too restrictive, since they don't cover migrants' siblings.

Read more: Refugee rift in Angela Merkel government sparks war of words

Syrian refugees particularly affected: The new legislation has a particular bearing on Syrian migrants in Germany, the majority of whom were only granted subsidiary protection because they were fleeing civil war and couldn't prove that they were personally persecuted. Their lower-level status means they are required to return to Syria once the civil war is officially over and Germany deems is safe to return. However, with Syrian President Bashar Assad set to hold on to power, it remains unknown how the government will treat returning Syrians who refused to fight on behalf of the regime.

Helping relatives in Syria

Why did Germany suspend family reunifications for subsidiary migrants? In March 2016, the German government introduced a two-year suspension on family reunifications for migrants only entitled to subsidiary protection. The bill was introduced in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 migrant crisis and sought to slow down the influx of refugees arriving from besieged regions in the Middle East. In February 2018, the Bundestag voted to extend the suspension by six months, while lawmakers negotiated the terms for the new bill.

Will migrants make use of the new law? Local media reported on Wednesday that some 26,000 enquiries for family reunification had already been made at various refugee agencies across the country, three months before the legislation is due to come into force. The German government, however, has vowed to abide by the strict cap, allowing no more than an additional 1,000 migrants to settle in Germany per month. Fulfilling all these requests under the current quota system would therefore take years.

Read more: Syrian women tortured and humiliated in Assad regime prisons

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dm/rt (dpa, AFP, KNA)