Simplified German asylum law still problematic
DW: A year ago, the German government passed a law to enable fast-track asylum procedures. Depending on the country of origin, asylum requests may be processed within a week. What have been the consequences of this law?
Sebastian Ludwig: In September 2015, Merkel said: "We can do this." Now that she has expressed the need for a national obligation to deport those who have been rejected, I ask myself, "What did she mean?" Everyone thought we would manage to accommodate the refugees. If we look at the result now, we must admit that her words were meant differently. She probably meant: We can prevent the refugees from coming and we can quickly send the rejected ones out of the country.
The fast-track asylum law and the law to implement a fast-track asylum procedure are actually not rules needed to speed up the asylum procedures but, instead contain passages that make it possible to deport people more quickly. The number of employees at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BaMF) has risen from 3,000 to 10,000. That is an extreme challenge for any organization. People there have a really hard job to do. The BaMF head's announcement that the authorities would manage to process a million asylum requests this year is about quantity, not quality.
How can BaMF carefully assess the applications despite have so many of them?
For a long time, asylum procedures took place while people waited in reception centers. As more and more people arrived in Germany, applications piled up at BaMF, so many people left the centers without having even submitted an application. As a consequence, BaMF did not know who it should invite to apply. The invitations and the hearing were sometimes delivered after the deadline had expired.
The hearing is important in the asylum process because refugees can explain why they fled and why they believe they need protection. But if the hearing takes place under time pressure, then many do not open up and they only say that they are afraid to die or be killed - without further explanation. Yet applications are rejected because of contradictions. Another standard measure in the process is that the refugee is given another chance fix their asylum application if it has been rejected because of contradictions. But that does not happen anymore.
Can people who are pressed for time still be provided with proper counseling?
There are registration centers. That is where the applications are submitted and shortly after that, the hearing takes place. A few hours later, the notification is delivered. In this phase, the refugees are not provided with counseling and they are not told that this is not a police hearing but instead, that they must explain in detail why they seek protection in Germany. The fast-track procedure in these centers has been designed for easy cases, meaning ones that can simply be rejected or recognized. This is the case for people who come from safe countries of origin or countries that have been defined as such. This includes Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo. Then, the so-called complex cases remain.
Isn't this breakdown into countries highly problematic?
It is supposed to serve the goal of processing as many requests as possible in the shortest amount of time. Among the 1 million applications, BaMF prioritizes the cases that take little time. This also leads to the fact that refugees who need protection may have to wait a long time to be recognized. We have deadlines of up to two years before they are notified.
The fact that people are separated into nationalities is problematic, regardless of the outcome of the asylum procedure. People with good prospects of staying have access to work market integration as defined by social security laws or access to integration courses. For example, a recognized Syrian can take part in an asylum course during the asylum procedure but a recognized Afghan cannot. That leads to problems in the reception centers. That is where people who come from safe countries of origin must live until the end of the asylum process and until their departure. That leads to complete isolation. Making up for the initial isolation costs much more time and money. Everyone's expenses should be covered. Even if an asylum seeker has to return to their home country, an education or job training can help them. That is also a kind of development cooperation.
Sebastian Ludwig is a consultant for refugee matters at Germany's Protestant charity organization Diakonie.
The interview was conducted by Sabrina Pabst.