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Refugees in Germany

Jeanette Seiffert / reNovember 29, 2013

According to the coalition agreement, German conservative Christian parties and the Social Democrats want to improve refugees' lives in Germany, but aid organizations and the opposition are skeptical.

ARCHIV - Youssef sitzt am 29.07.2013 im Flüchtlingscamp am Oranienplatz in Berlin am Rande einer Pressekonferenz in seiner Unterkunft. Foto: Britta Pedersen/dpa (zu dpa: "Berlin-Kreuzberg: Die alleingelassenen Flüchtlinge vom Oranienplatz " vom 20.09.2013)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

"Germany is an open-minded country" is the headline of one of the chapters of the coalition agreement between CDU, CSU and the SPD. The chapter is about immigration and integration. But does this open-mindedness also apply for people who come to Germany to escape war, persecution and poverty? Only one of the 185 pages of the coalition agreement is about asylum and refugee policy. Most of the readjustments deal with refugees who are already in Germany.

Little improvement

In the last few months, refugees have often protested against their situation in Germany. Asylum seekers camped for weeks in public places and some of them even started a hunger strike. They demanded permanent residence status or just wanted to draw attention to their plight in Germany.

Titel: Flüchtlinge am Brandenburger Tor Schlagworte:Flüchtlinge, Brandenburger Tor, Hungerstreik, Berlin, Lampedusa Wer hat das Bild gemacht?: DW/Lavinia Pitu Wann wurde das Bild gemacht?: 14.10.2013 Wo wurde das Bild aufgenommen?: Berlin, Pariser Platz Bildbeschreibung: Flüchtlinge befinden sich seit mehreren Tagen im Hungerstreik, am Pariser Platz. Sie verlangen Asyl in Deutschland und Änderungen der deutschen Einwanderungspolitik.
Refugees have protested their situation in GermanyImage: DW/L. Pitu

Refugees will barely benefit from the planned legal amendments, according to Friedo Pflüger from the Jesuit Refugee Service. "The basic demands, which those people went on hunger strike for, were not addressed," he said.

The residence requirement, which does not allow refugees to move around freely in Germany, will be relaxed but not eliminated. Refugees will soon be able to move around in the entire state, not just in the part they are registered. Even the practice that refugees are not being paid, but receive vouchers for food and other essentials will not be abolished.

A new right to stay?

The most important change affects the refugees who have already lived in Germany for some time and were only granted a temporary right to stay. In the future, they will be allowed to stay indefinitely - regardless of when exactly they arrived in Germany. Pflüger hopes that "the current practice of extending the temporary right to stay again and again - often lasting 15 to 20 years, are over."

Asylum seekers should be allowed to work three months after their arrival in Germany, according to the coalition agreement. But Pflüger is skeptical that it will help many refugees.

"It sounds good that people can start work faster than in the past," he says. "But the regulation that Germans or citizens of the European Union are given priority in terms of employment remains intact."

This provision, he said, will make it impossible for asylum seekers to find work in certain regions.

A still image taken from video released on October 4, 2013 by the Italian Coastguard shows migrants rescued from the water off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday October 3, 2013. Italian rescue workers have pulled 111 bodies from the migrant boat that sank off the island of Lampedusa on Thursday and expect to recover more than a hundred more from the submerged wreck, a coastguard official said on Friday. Footage taken October 3, 2013. REUTERS/Italian Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters (ITALY - Tags: DISASTER) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. MANDATORY CREDIT
Refugees from crisis-hit regions often drown en route to EuropeImage: REUTERS

Further exclusion?

Refugee experts also criticize the coalition's plans on the handling of refugees who have not yet got to Germany. Franziska Keller, member of the EU parliament for the Green party, criticizes that Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina will now be classified as so-called "safe countries of origin" and therefore refugees from these countries will not be able to get asylum in Germany.

"This does not at all fulfil the right for asylum in Europe," said Franziska Keller. She worries that regulation is aimed at avoiding refugees of the Roma minority. German cities already complain that Roma from Bulgaria and Rumania are a burden for them. "You always have to see the individual situation instead of declaring that 'certain countries are safe now'," she said.

Los Cristianos, SPAIN: Italian boat "San Giorgio" is seen at the port of Los Cristianos in the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife 18 August 2006. The boat was operating for the FRONTEX European Union external border agency, a plan for helping Spain against the massive entrance of illegal immigrants. The Frontex operation involve two patrol boats, from Italy and Portugal, operating off Mauritania and Cape Verde, along with two surveillance planes provided by Finland and Italy, joined by Spanish patrol boats and helicopters already operating in the area. The Canaries, between 100 and 400 kilometres (60 and 250 miles) from the African coast, became the preferred route for clandestine migrants after security was heightened in Spanish enclaves in north Africa. AFP PHOTO / Desiree Martin (Photo credit should read DESIREE MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
The European border agency Frontex will also be responsible for rescuing people in futureImage: Desiree Martin/AFP/Getty Images

Demands for legal migration from crisis hotspots

The representative of the Greens also criticizes that the European border agency Frontex will in future also be responsible for rescuing people who are in distress at the Mediterranean Sea. "Frontex's job is to organize migration control. If we really want to rescue people, we have to create legal ways to get into Europe. But there is no mention of that in the coalition agreement," she said.

Pflüger also criticizes that there are no safe ways to get into Europe. "This would be very important. Especially if we realize that people from Syria and elsewhere still cross the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe. And many of these people will drown," he said.

He hopes that the government will stick to its plan of accepting more refugees from crisis-hit regions. But his experience with refugees from Syria is not encouraging, only 1.000 of the promised 5.000 refugees from Syria have arrived in Germany so far.