Germany′s terrorism commissioner plans higher compensation for victims | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.05.2018
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Germany's terrorism commissioner plans higher compensation for victims

When it comes to the state compensating terror victims, Germany is still lagging behind in international comparisons. That's why experts want payments to be adjusted to match benefits in other EU countries.

Twelve people died in the terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 when an Islamist terrorist drove a truck into the holiday crowds on Berlin's Breitscheidplatz. To help the families of the victims and those who were injured in the attack, the German government introduced the position of commissioner for victims of terrorism.

The person holding the position has changed — Edgar Franke replaced Kurt Beck in April — but one central demand has remained the same. Both Beck and Franke have called for higher financial compensation for victims and relatives. They believe that the hardship benefit – a one-time lump sum paid out soon after an attack – should be tripled.

 "The victims died in an attack on the state," Franke told DW. "The terrorists didn't want to harm them specifically, they wanted to attack the state. That's why the state makes these payments."

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Lump sum likely to triple

Under current rules, individuals are entitled to receive a lump sum of €10,000 ($11,900) for the loss of a child, parent or spouse, or €5,000 for the loss of a sibling. Injured persons receive €5,000. Those sums would thus increase to €30,000 and €15,000 respectively. The increase would be backdated to include the victims of the Berlin attack.

Another proposed change is to give tourists from other countries, including non-EU nationals, the right to such payments — something they were not previously entitled to.

"Neither sum can bring a lost loved one back to life, of course," Franke said. "But the people affected should receive more money, because these higher sums are the norm in other countries." 

Read more: German government criticized over terror victims' compensation

Carnage at the Breitscheidplatz in Berlin after the terror attack

On December 19, 2016, Anis Amri drove a truck into a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people

Germany not doing great in international comparison

In his final report presented in December 2017, Kurt Beck had included a comparison of hardship benefits between Germany and a number of other countries. It showed that Germany's current payments were much lower than those of some of its neighbors.

Many countries, including Germany, have other benefits in addition to the lump sum payment to help terrorism victims. But just in terms of one-time hardship benefits, €10,000 is indeed rather low. In France, spouses and parents of people who died in a terrorist attack receive up to €35,000 and children up to €25,000. In Spain, relatives can even receive a one-time payment of up to €250,000.

So why is Germany currently lagging behind?

Edgar Franke

A year and a half after the Berlin terrorist attack, Franke is demanding more money for victims

"It's simple: Before Berlin we didn't have this kind of [large-scale, high-casualty] terrorism here in Germany," Franke said. One reason, he suggested, was that Germany had traditionally been reluctant to send troops to international conflicts, meaning it did not suffer "the consequences that they had in London or Paris."

After the Berlin Christmas market attack, the German government had to react quickly to come up with a payment plan, which is now supposed to be increased. Victims commissioner Franke believes the government is likely to go ahead with tripling the benefits.

There are, however, some countries where compensation for the family of terror victims is lower than what Germany is aiming for. In the UK, which has seen a relatively high number of attacks in recent years, family members receive roughly €12,500.

Solid long-term support

In Germany, those who are entitled to these hardship benefits include surviving victims as well as families of victims of terrorist attacks and right-wing hate crimes – i.e. crimes with a politically motivated background that the federal public prosecutor general is tasked with investigating. This includes the victims of the far-right extremist National Socialist Underground (NSU) terrorist cell, alleged to have murdered nine people because of their immigrant backgrounds between 2000 and 2007.

The lump sum is only one of several types of compensation that they have a right to claim. And when looking at some of the other types, Germany does better in international comparison.

"Other benefits like pension payments and aid for people wounded in an attack are pretty well organized in Germany," Beck told DW.

These benefits include regular pension payments for people who can't fully return to their jobs after having been injured or traumatized in an attack, as well as financial support with doctor and hospital bills.  

Kurt Beck

Beck says victims in Germany have easier access to pension payments than in other European countries

It's not just the money that matters

Long-term financial support and psychological help are just as important as appropriately high hardship benefits, Helgard van Hüllen, vice president of the German victims' aid organization White Ring and of the NGO Victim Support Europe, said.

"More than two thirds of the relatives of those killed in the Berlin attacks still receive care from the White Ring," van Hüllen told DW. "Long-term care is the most important thing, especially for victims of terrorism."

That includes long-term payments, van Hüllen said, "so the victim doesn't suffer financially on top of everything else."

In Germany donations from the population, on top of state payments, are also distributed among terrorism victims and families of those who died.

"I believe that it's extremely important that we've seen so much willingness to help in Germany and so many people who have donated," Beck said. "It doesn't matter so much because of the materialist aspect, but because the compassion of the people means a lot to those who lost a loved one."

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