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efms Migration Report

April 2004

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EU interior ministers reach agreement on directive for harmonising European asylum law

At a Council meeting in Luxembourg in late April, EU interior ministers have managed to reach a compromise on the remaining contentious details of a common European directive concerning minimum standards for asylum procedure. The agreement has paved the way for passing the last remaining regulations required for harmonising European asylum law.

As EU interior ministers have been able to reach an agreement before the deadline of 1st May 2004, which had been set by the treaty of Nice and the EU treaty of Amsterdam (1999), all future EU decisions on asylum policy will be taken by a qualified majority vote in the Council of Ministers, i.e. decisions will no longer have to be taken unanimously, which has been mandatory up to now. In addition, the European Parliament will in future have a stronger say in the matter: Instead of its mere consulting status in the EU legislative process, it will, from now on, play a more active role in the decision making process in the field of asylum policy.

EU interior ministers had only been able to reach an agreement after the current Irish EU presidency had presented additional proposals for a compromise, which allowed member states to retain most of their national sovereignty over asylum legislation. EU member states will, for instance, continue to be entitled to compile their own lists of so-called "safe third countries"; this concept of safe third countries had been a sticking point in recent negotiations. However, if member states want to extend their current list of safe countries, they will be obliged to follow the definitions and criteria contained in the new EU directive, which defines the conditions under which a country can be designated a safe third country. The directive also guarantees that refugees from these designated safe countries will be entitled to have their asylum petitions reviewed individually. The directive states that refugees "should" be granted a residence title until their asylum petition has been finally decided upon, but is not mandatory for national governments to grant refugees a residence permit for the entire period. Following pressure from the British government, EU ministers have decided that not only states, but also individual regions can be designated as safe third countries. Furthermore, following demands by the German Interior Minister Otto Schily (SPD), an additional list of particularly safe or "super-safe" third countries" will also be compiled. Refugees from these countries can be turned back immediately at border checkpoints, which means that their asylum petitions will not have to be reviewed at all. According to the EU directive, a country can be designated as super-safe if it has ratified and implemented both the Geneva Convention on Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Luc Frieden, the interior minister of Luxembourg, has called the compromise a "miniature" version of European asylum law, and has announced that his government, which will take over the EU presidency in 2005, will present additional proposals. The UNHCR's response to the compromise has been marked by disappointment, with UNHCR representatives expressing concern that the compromise in its current form might lead to violations of international refugee law. In particular, the UNHCR has criticised the concepts of "safe" and "super-safe" third countries, which allow EU member states to expel refugees before their asylum petitions have been finally decided upon.
FAZ 30.04.04 // NZZ 30.04.04 // SZ 30.04.04 // Press statement UNHCR 30.04.04 // FR 03.05.04

No progress in negotiations on migration reform

The chances of finding an all-party compromise on a reform of German migration law have deteriorated after the working group set up by the parliamentary conference committee has ended its eleventh round of negotiations between government and opposition parties without any tangible result.

Security issues, above all, have been the sticking point at the negotiating table. Even though opposition and coalition parties generally agree that potential non-German terrorists should be expelled or deported faster, opinions on the legal implementation of these proposals continue to diverge widely. According to the red-green government coalition, deportation orders are to be taken centrally by the Federal Interior Ministry. The decision is to be "fact-based and allow recourse to legal review", with the right to appeal being limited to one court hearing.

Opposition parties, on the other hand, insist on tougher regulations, allowing not only expulsions of potential non-German terrorists, but also of non-German extremists. Günther Beckstein (CSU), the Bavarian interior minister, has also demanded that responsibilities for deportations are to remain with the state governments, effectively rejecting any transfer of powers to the federal government. In addition, Mr. Beckstein regards it as essential that countermeasures against extremists can be carried out immediately, without having to wait for the result of legal reviews of administrative decisions. Furthermore, the opposition CDU/CSU parties also favour stricter visa regulations and want to give police officers access to the Central Register of Foreigners, a federal database on non-German residents.

As far as integration issues are concerned, negotiators in the working group of the parliamentary conference committee seem to have come very close to reaching a compromise. The parties have agreed to scrap a proposal in the red-green government bill which would have granted legal entitlements to non-German residents for participating in integration courses. Instead, according to leaked documents, negotiators want to make participation in these courses obligatory for those foreign residents who are recipients of unemployment benefits or welfare, who are unable to have a "simple conversation in German" or who, according to an assessment by local foreign-resident authorities, are "in special need of integration". Foreign residents of the groups mentioned who refuse to participate in the courses or participate unsuccessfully are to be sanctioned, possible sanctions including benefit cuts or even a repeal of residence permits. Representatives of the Green Party in particular are opposed to these tightened regulations, especially objecting to the inclusion of sanctions in integration regulations.

The federal and state (Länder) commissioners for foreign resident affairs and integration have also called for maintaining the original proposals for granting legal entitlements to integration measures. In a declaration passed at their annual spring conference, they have also rejected proposals that would oblige local authorities to decide on whether and which non-German residents have to participate in integration courses.

Meanwhile, the opposition to the current proposals for a compromise has been increasing. In a joint statement, Pro Asyl and the Intercultural Council have called for an end of the all-party talks on migration reform. Instead, they have called on the governing coalition to pass "core reforms of foreign-resident and asylum law" as far as possible on their own, i.e. without the consent of the opposition parties in the Bundesrat, the second chamber of the federal parliament representing state governments.

The German Association of Trade Unions (DGB) has also expressed concern about the direction the negotiations in the parliamentary conference committee are taking - particularly because of the insufficient regulations on labour migration and the lack of residence entitlements due to humanitarian reasons for refugees that have been long-term residents of Germany.
Welt 02.04.04 // SZ 03.04.04 // FR 22.04.04 // FR 23.04.04 // SZ 23.04.04 // taz 23.04.04 // Welt 24.04.04 // FR 29.04.04 // Welt 2904.04 // SZ 30.04.04

Berlin state government reaches agreement on banning religious symbols in some public services

The Berlin state government coalition, formed by the SPD and PDS parties, has reached an agreement to ban all "conspicuous religious symbols" in schools as well as in some other sectors of the public service. The government coalition aims at enacting the law until the middle of the year.

This would make Berlin the first German state to ban not only headscarves but also Christian and Jewish symbols in schools. In addition, the planned ban of religious symbols will apply not only to public schools, but also to public-sector workers in the police force, the fire brigade and the legal system. Other public services, however, for example day nurseries for children, will continue to allow headscarves and the display of other religious symbols. The two coalition parties forming the Berlin state government, SPD and PDS, have reached this compromise after agreeing to simultaneously set up a state anti-discrimination office.

Whereas representatives of the Greens and the FDP have welcomed the agreement, representatives of the CDU opposition party and the Christian churches have severely criticised the compromise. Wolfgang Huber, chairman of the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany, has criticised that the planned legislation will treat headscarves and Christian symbols as equivalent, calling the plans of the red-green government coalition "sheer insanity".

Meanwhile, the state legislature of Baden-Württemberg has been the first parliament to pass a headscarf ban for female Muslim teachers, in a vote supported by both the governing CDU and FDP parties as well as large parts of the SPD opposition. The law, which will take effect in mid-April 2004, bans all "political, religious and ideological displays" which would endanger the neutrality of schools or interfere with school peace. The display of "Christian and occidental educational and cultural values", on the other hand, will continue to be admissible, i.e. displaying the Christian cross or wearing the Jewish Kippa will continue to be allowed. Annette Schavan (CDU), the state minister for cultural affairs, has emphasised that the amendment is in accordance with the state constitution, which calls for public education to be based on "Christian educational and cultural values". However, the Baden-Württemberg state government expects, according to Ms. Schavan, that the state law will be reviewed by the Federal Constitutional Court.

Meanwhile, 61 Muslim organisations in Germany have published a joint statement expressing their opposition to any law banning headscarves at school. Riad Ghalaini, the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Baden-Württemberg, has criticised that any school legislation which bans Muslim headscarves while permitting Christian symbols violates the principle of equality between all religions. According to Mr. Ghalaini, the Federal Constitutional Court has upheld and emphasised this principle of equal treatment over and over again.
BZ 31.03.04 // NZZ online 01.04.04 // taz 01.04.04 // FR 02.04.04 // SZ 02.04.04 // NZ 03.04.04 // BZ 22.04 // NZZ 22.04.04

Asylum statistics

In April 2004, a total of 3,015 people have submitted a petition for political asylum in Germany. Compared to March 2004, respective figures have decreased by 396 (- 11.6 %), and by 997 people (- 24.9 %) over April 2003. During the first four months of 2004, the number of asylum seekers has thus fallen by more than 30 %, compared to the same period last year.

In April 2004, applicants' main countries of origin were Turkey (373), Serbia and Montenegro (371), the Russian Federation (202), Iran (127) and India (122).

The Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees has passed decisions on 5,418 applicants in April 2004, 82 (1.5 %) of whom have been recognised as entitled to political asylum. A further 85 people (1.6%) have been granted protection against deportation according to §51 Par.1 Foreigners Act (AuslG). The asylum petitions of 3,711 people (68.5 %) have been rejected. The remaining cases (28.4 %) have been closed for other reasons, for example because applicants have withdrawn their petitions.
Press statement BMI 02.06.04

April 2004

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