Germany's asylum laws were revamped one year ago in order to both cut down processing times for asylum applications and tighten qualifications. What have the new laws achieved?
Hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum arrived in Germany in 2015, hoping to at least being able to live there temporarily. As a response to mass influx of migrants, the German parliament passed the Asylum Procedures Acceleration Act, also known as "Asylpaket II", on February 25, 2016. Last year, human rights and refugee organizations were up in arms against the new legislation. What has happened since then?
Arrival centers established for expedited asylum procedures
"Special reception centers" were opened in the Bavarian cities of Bamberg and Manching. There, applications submitted by people from countries deemed "safe countries of origin," such as certain Balkan countries, are processed. These individuals generally have no right to asylum.
24 news reception centers were set up, in which the entire asylum procedure is to be centralized and carried out under one roof – from medical examinations to the final decision. At first, the arrival centers were responsible for the easy procedures, like for Syrians or people from the Balkans. Now that fewer asylum seekers are arriving in Germany, applications from many different countries of origin will be processed.
Visitors observe a parliamentary debate preceding a vote on revised asylum laws in the Bundestag on February 25, 2016
According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), measures have been implemented to facilitate "a massive increase in efficiency and acceleration of procedures in the Federal Office." The time needed to process new applications has been greatly reduced. For applications submitted in the past six months, the procedure took around two months.
BAMF also notes that it has been able to massively increase the number of asylum decisions. In 2016, decisions were made for 700,000 cases, a 140-percent increase compared to the approximately 280,000 in 2015.
Asylum processes take longer
In response to a query submitted by Die Linke, the far left opposition party in parliament, the German interior ministry confirmed that there are great differences in the duration of the procedure depending on the applicant's country of origin. Syrians are informed within around four months. Applicants from Somalia have to wait for 17.3 months; Turkey, 16.3 months; and the Russian Federation, 15.6 months. According to Die Linke's spokesperson for domestic policy, Ulla Jelpke, who submitted the query, many people seeking asylum are left in the dark for years, the reason being that people must wait for half a year before applying for asylum. "This is completely unacceptable for those affected and a huge strain in the task of integrating them," says Jelpke.
Statistically, these figures mean that the asylum procedures did not speed up in 2016. On the contrary, BAMF needed an average of 8.1 months to make decisions on asylum applications in the first quarter of 2016. The annual average for 2016 was 7.1 months and for 2015, only 5.2. According to BAMF, this statistical data does not do justice to the "complexity of the matter" and points at false conclusions. Because of the apparently increased efficiency, "many complex old procedures" are decided on as well, and this leads to an increase of the overall average time.
Lawsuits and problems with identification
Some observers charge that migrants themselves are to blame for the prolonged asylum procedures; for example, processing time is longer when they file an appeal against a rejection. The number of those suing for asylum has risen. Between January and August 2016, the average duration of a trial was almost eight months.
Applicants who falsify, conceal, or refuse to actively help confirm their identity also prolong asylum procedures. However, BAMF does not have figures for the number of asylum seekers who do not cooperate with regard to identity checks.
Limited protection is offered
"Asylpaket II" encompasses more than the duration of the procedure. Ever since the law was passed, more and more applicants – as a rule, Syrians have been most affected – are being granted the right to what is known as subsidiary protection. In January and February 2016, only 20 Syrians were granted this protection status. The numbers rose to almost 24,000 in September. In January 2017, approximately 8,200 of 13,400 Syrians received subsidiary protection.
BAMF explains that ever since the Syrians started attending personal hearings - and not just filling out application forms - it has emerged that many of them were more or less victims of the civil war and not individual persecution. This means that the applicants would not be granted the asylum rights provided for in the German constitution or the Geneva Convention for refugees. Refugees who are granted subsidiary protection must wait for a set period of at least two years before their family can join them.
This rule also seems to delay the asylum process, as many people are appealing decisions. According to Die Linke, a total of 43,300 Syrians filed appeals in 2016.
Deportations have been made easier
Asylpaket II has made it easier to deport rejected applicants – much to the displeasure refugee organizations. "There are more and more deportations of gravely ill people - especially in Bavaria," criticizes Bernd Mesovic from the refugee organization Pro Asyl. For example, in recent collective deportations to Afghanistan, there were no adequate investigations as to whether the country of origin could provide medication or psychological assistance for the deportees.