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Opinion: Stop 'pocket money'

August 16, 2015

Germany's interior minister has proposed that applicants for asylum should get noncash benefits instead of paper money. That is a good idea, DW's Christoph Hasselbach writes.

Deutschland Asylsuchende in Berlin
Image: Reuters/S. Loos

Applicants for asylum in Germany receive 143 euros ($159) in "pocket money" per month while they await initial reviews of their cases. The cash is meant for transportation and communication purposes, and it is separate from the accommodation, food and clothing that they also receive.

After this initial phase, the support increasingly takes the form of cash. A single applicant for asylum is given 359 euros per month, the amount deemed sufficient by the state to ensure a "dignified existence." Not more, but also not less.

For a lot of applicants from the West Balkans, this money is more than they would make if they worked full time back home.

Christoph Hasselbach
DW's Christoph HasselbachImage: DW/M.Müller

So, it's not hard to understand why they come. However, most who come have no chance of ever being given asylum here. German law would prevent it - asylum is only given to those who are officially considered persecuted.

Those who think that poverty is a basis for asylum have to understand that that would bring a large portion of the human population to Germany. At the moment, almost half of the asylum applicants here are from the West Balkans. Despite the virtual impossibility of getting asylum, they are still taken through the application process, and this costs money. This is money that could be used for people seeking refuge from war and other atrocities.

Government losing control?

A recent proposal by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere would offer asylum applicants less money in cash form, but the same benefits.

The Constitutional Court, the law of the land in Germany, has carefully defined the benefits to be given to applicants for asylum, as well as any changes to be made to those benefits. The state cannot reduce these benefits. And even if more noncash benefits are granted instead of paper money, this won't have any effect on the situation in the countries where these people are coming from - nor on the lack of hope they see there.

So, why not give these people from the West Balkans a chance to work here, at least for those who have the requisite abilities? This would have absolutely nothing to do with asylum. It would be Germany seeking out its workers according to its own interests. But very important: Only after the regulations of political asylum have been established can we even think about the idea of desired labor migration.

At the moment, there is a perverted idea of "hospitality" among Germans with regard to the way migrants are treated. Some think that just about everyone who wants to stay can stay. And very many Germans think that the government has lost control of the situation.

This is what is killing the "welcome culture" that we're supposed to have. The proposal made by our interior minister would be a first step, but an important one, to show that the German state still has that control.

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