New ruling on asylum seekers in Germany | Africa | DW | 18.07.2012
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New ruling on asylum seekers in Germany

Asylum seekers in Germany have been receiving too little money for far too long. That's the essence of a landmark ruling by the German constitutional court.

The German constitutional court has ruled that the law covering financial support for asylum seekers must be changed. This is a result of a lawsuit filed by an Iraqi asylum seeker and a young woman originally from Nigeria who has now acquired German citizenship. The court concluded that the monthly allowance that asylum seekers currently receive is not enough to enable them to live “a dignified life”. Not least because the cost of living in Germany has steadily increased whereas asylum seekers’ allowances have remained the same for almost 20 years.

Chief Constitutional Court judge Ferdinand Kirchhof

Chief judge Ferdinand Kirchhof announced the court's ruling

Asylum seekers are currently paid 220 euros ($270) per month. This will be increased to 330 euros.

The court said that before a new law is drafted the 130,000 asylum seekers living in the country should receive benefits in the interim period calculated along the same lines as those for German welfare recipients. The new payments will be backdated to January 1, 2011.

The case will have been followed closely in Leipzig where senior local official Thomas Fabian has been trying to drum up support for a new accommodation concept for asylum seekers. He recently held a meeting with the local council in Leipzig’s south-east district where there are plans to rent accommodation for 115 asylum seekers in a large house..

Thomas Fabian explaining his plans

Thomas Fabian says his plans have support but there is also prejudice

This would be the biggest new housing project in Leipzig for asylum seekers – but it only found its way on to the agenda after a similar project planned for another district was rejected by local residents. Here too, doubts and scepticism are evident.

A landlord told the meeting attended by Thomas Fabian that two of his tenants were considering moving out if the new, foreign neighbors really do arrive. For some residents of Leipzig, asylum seekers are synonymous with crime and social problems. Fear of the unknown is widespread.

Prejudice and support

Fabian needs to find new accommodation for 670 asylum seekers and initially received much applause for his idea of spreading them around the city. However many people soon changed their minds once it became clear that their districts were part of the plan.

A Leipziig hostel surrounded by barbed wire

One of the 'inhumane' hostels earmarked for closure

“I was quite shocked by the sometimes very strong prejudices expressed against asylum seekers and refugees,” Fabian said. But he said he was also encouraged by the level of support. Several people had asked how they could help integrate the newcomers and had offered to sponsor refugees

‘Inhumane’ hostel to be closed

The people at the center of the discussion are not able to take part but can only watch and wait. One of them is Sahardid Jama-Ahmed from Somalia. He has lived in an asylum hostel in Leipzig for over ten years, together with more than 200 other asylum seekers, mostly single males. The city authorities now describe these premises, two rundown houses surrounded by double fencing, as "inhumane" and want them closed. Jama-Ahmed suspects that economic reasons could be behind the change of heart, since a large company has expressed interest in buying the land. Jama-Ahmed speaks fluent German and says he tries not to get upset by what he hears some people saying. He’s become used to everyday discrimination, he says, and the fact that many residents do not want any contact with foreigners. "People are often cautious about things they don’t know,” Jama-Ahmed says. “But once people get to know me, they often change their ideas.”

Lack of integration programs

The 40-year old Somali would like to move into an apartment of his own.

Sahardid Jama-Ahmed in Leipzig

Sahardid Jama-Ahmed has lived for ten years in a Leipzig hostel

In the small room he presently calls home, there are too many flies and sometimes cockroaches as well. But he is not sure whether all asylum seekers could cope if they lived on their own. In a hostel, there is little incentive to be independent, he says. The asylum seekers’ washing is done twice a week, trash is collected and they receive a monthly allowance. Since the status of asylum seekers is in limbo, there are few integration opportunities for them. As a qualified prosthetist Jama-Ahmad is able to construct artificial limbs but he is not permitted to work in Germany. Every three months his temporary permission to stay is renewed but his long term residence status is insecure. The situation is taking its toll. Frustrated by the lack of prospects, he has begun to drink, like many others in the hostel.

The Leipzig plan can’t solve all the asylum seekers’ problems. But it is an important step towards a more successful form of integration, especially in a city where just six percent of the population are foreign nationals. The latest ruling by the constitutional court, which will increase the amount of money in asylum seekers’ pockets, may also help revive Sahardid Jama-Ahmed’s optimism. 

Author: Adrian Kriesch / sh

Editor: Mark Caldwell

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