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Can Turks get asylum in Germany?

Janina Semenova
December 27, 2016

The number of Turkish asylum seekers in Germany increased in 2016. The German government, however, is not inclined to see this as a direct result of the failed coup attempt in Turkey.

Deutschland Brandenburger Tor Türkische Fahne
Image: picture alliance/dpa/K.-D. Gabbert

Between January and November 2016, more than 5,000 Turkish citizens applied for political asylum in Germany. By comparison, the whole of 2015 saw only 1,700 asylum applications. According to Günter Burkhardt, director of the human rights organization "Pro Asyl," this is still a relatively low number, "given what's going on in Turkey." 

After the failed coup attemptin July, thousands of people were laid off, while members of the political opposition and journalists were detained. "The coup attempt is being used by the government to crack down on all those who are politically unpopular with them," Burkhardt said.

The number of asylum seekers from Turkey has clearly increased since July: in January, 119 applications were submitted - but there were 702 in November. but those figures alone are insufficient evidence of a connection, according to the German government, which says it does not engage in "speculation about possible causes for the rising figures" - according to a response to a parliamentary question seen by the "Funke" news consortium.

The German Federal Office for Immigration and Refugees(BAMF), too, told DW that there are insufficient reasons for establishing a connection between asylum application figures and the failed coup attempt. People who submitted an application in the summer could have entered Germany some time before, for one thing, and the office did not keep statistics of the flight reasons offered by applicants during their hearings, it said.

Deutschland Anhänger und Sympathisanten der kurdischen Partei HDP demonstrieren am Tag der Menschenrechte in Ber
HDP supporters called for their members to get political asylumImage: imago/Seeliger

Chances for asylum

What are the chances for asylum for Turkish citizens anyway? Germany does grant asylum to anyone who is considered a victim of political persecution. Lawyer Rolf Gutmann, who specializes in the law for foreign nationals, believes that, for example, journalists or members of the opposition Kurdish party (HDP) who are able to prove that they are subject to such persecution do have the right to asylum in Germany. This, however, is not a blanket guarantee, as each case is examined individually.

"Another thing that comes into it: does the applicant provide a credible account?" the lawyer said, so when the asylum seeker presents his case during the hearing, they must provide indications of political persecution.

Between January and November, the so-called "protection rate" of Turkish applications amounted to 7.6 percent. For Kurdish applicants, that rate is much higher: almost 80 percent. But this data, disclosed at DW's request, does not necessarily indicate whether the chances for asylum are low or high. The protection rate coversall kinds of protection- running the gamut from entitlement to asylum to refugee protection, subsidiary protection and a ban on deportation.

Of the 5,166 Turkish nationals who applied for asylum in Germany between January and November 2016, 80 percent are Kurds.

"The situation in the Kurdish areas is, in part, rather desperate," says Gutmann: "After all, no one wants to live in conditions of civil war." But this does not necessarily qualify as sufficient grounds for asylum, because of what the law calls "internal flight alternative" - according to which, a Turkish national from the Kurdish areas could leave for Ankara or Istanbul first, rather than fleeing the country altogether.

Deutschland Günter Burkhardt Pro Asyl
Pro Asyl director Burkhardt thinks the law should be applied to Turks fairlyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen

Political pressure?

Günter Burkhardt, director of the NGO Pro Asyl, called on the German government not to give in to the pressure exerted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Protection of refugees "must not be sacrificed to foreign policy interests," said Burkhardt, referring to the EU-Turkey refugee deal that requires Turkey to accept the return of all migrants who entered Europe illegally. Pro Asyl has labeled the deal unlawful for its disregard of human rights.

It remains to be seen how the BAMF will decide on asylum applications submitted by Turkish nationals - because reviewing a single case can take several months. Even if, thus far, one can only speculate whether the number of Turkish applicants will continue to grow, Burkhardt believes it is "likely that Erdogan will uphold his course of cracking down hard on his critics and that Turkey will change from a country that accepts refugees to one from which people escape in high numbers."

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