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An asylum 'mini-reform'

Interview: Diana Pessler / cdMay 28, 2013

The German government would like to make life easier for refugees looking for work. Marei Pelzer of the Pro Asyl refugee rights organization tells DW that the reforms aren't nearly enough.

A long line of asylum seekers of various cultural backgrounds appear tired and distressed (Photo: no info)

DW: Ms. Pelzer, for an asylum seeker hoping to work in Germany, what kind of conditions can he or she expect?

Marei Pelzer: Initially, they're not allowed to work for an entire year. And after that, there's the so-called "priority rule": If an asylum seeker or a "tolerated" foreigner wants a job, the labor office first checks if there's a German or EU citizen with a "priority" right to a job. And only if that's not the case is an asylum seeker allowed to work. In some regions that means they don't have a chance at all.

For "tolerated" foreigners [those whose asylum application has been rejected but who cannot be deported for practical or humanitarian reasons] who have been in Germany for more than four years, there's no "priority check." Clearly, the German government intends that to be applied to asylum seekers as well in the future. In addition, the refugee authorities will not be asked for their approval after four years. How meaningful do you feel these changes are?

It's really just a small change. What we would've hoped for is for the priority rule to be completely done away with. What you really have now is just have a small, bureaucratic act that's gone.

Marei Pelzer smiles at the camera (Photo: sent by Marei Pelzer)
Pelzer worries that long periods of unemployment hurt integrationImage: Pro Asyl

For politicians, is it about less bureaucracy, or do you see other motives for the changes?

I believe that there are simply competing ideas between politicians. Some representatives want to give those affected a better chance at jobs, so that they can pay for their own upkeep. And against them are the hardliners who want to keep those people away from the jobs market, so that no asylum seekers are drawn to Germany by the prospect of a job. I believe that the new plans are a compromise that actually accomplishes very little.

You've demanded that the priority check be done away with. How does it affect asylum seekers and resident aliens?

The checks often take weeks. The aliens' offices responsible for distributing work permits send an inquiry to the labor office. The labor office takes a look at the jobs market - at whether there are other people searching for work who take precedence. And then, after a couple of weeks, you receive an answer. That alone usually scares off potential employers, who don't want to wait weeks to see if the applicant is allowed to work or not. There's still a lot of work to do there, and what's planned is actually just a mini-reform.

In your opinion, what should be done in Germany?

What we say is, integration has to begin on the first day, and that includes asylum seekers being able to learn German - so that languages courses are offered. You simply have to take the period of time when asylum seekers are waiting for their cases to be processed, and use it sensibly. That way they can find their place in society, and people can look at the qualifications they bring with them, so that those qualifications don't lose value. It's a huge problem that, under the current system, people are first sentenced to do nothing, and that those existing skills are lost.

How does Germany compare with other European countries? How high are the chances for an asylum seeker or a "tolerated" foreigner to get a foothold here?

Many of the restriction actually come from Germany. This manner of making living conditions as poor as possible in order to scare off refugees - that's a very German idea. On the other hand, you also have to see, of course, that Germany wasn't hit as hard by the financial crisis, and that its labor market is better off compared to countries like Greece, Italy or Portugal. In that sense, in spite of the restrictions, it's perhaps easier for those affected to find work here.

But those restrictions, that's really very German. And that has to be thought through again - especially in light of the shortage in skilled labor - whether it really is the right policy, to impose such rules on people who came as refugees.

Marei Pelzer is the spokeswoman on legal issues of the refugee rights organization Pro Asyl.