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efms Migration Report

February 2004

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Disagreement on concept of "safe third countries" continues to delay harmonisation of European asylum policy

At a Council meeting in Brussels, EU interior and justice ministers have once again failed to reach a compromise on common EU minimum standards for asylum procedure and the recognition of refugees. Concerning common asylum procedure, the sticking point continues to be, first and foremost, the concept of safe third countries. Federal Interior Minister Otto Schily (SPD) has been urging fellow ministers to introduce provisions on so-called "super safe third countries", which are to be modelled on the regulations concerning safe third countries in German asylum law. Under such provisions, EU member states would have the possibility of refusing entry at national borders to asylum seekers trying to enter the country via those "super safe third countries"; in that case, EU countries would not be obliged to review respective asylum petitions.

Legal associations as well as refugee and human rights organisations have severely criticised Mr. Schily's proposals. Amnesty International (AI), for example, has pointed out that under these proposals asylum seekers could be sent back to countries such as Belarus and the Ukraine, which have frequently been criticised for their problematic human rights record. As for Turkey, AI has reported that the country continues to deport Iranian refugees to Iran - although they might face danger to live there - even though this practice is in violation of the ban in international law on chain deportations. The UNHCR has criticised that the current proposals for an EU directive would allow member states to deport rejected asylum seekers even in cases where appeals against administrative asylum decisions are still pending; the UNHCR has demanded that such immediate deportations should be restricted to a limited number of exceptional cases only.

However, the prospects that EU interior ministers will reach a compromise concerning the EU directive on the recognition of refugees have improved. Up to recently, Mr. Schily had blocked any agreement in view of the fact that the German parliament has still been unable to pass the government's migration reform. Meanwhile, Mr. Schily has expressed the view that the German parliament could reach a consensus concerning the question as to whether protection should be extended to refugees that have been subject to non-governmental persecution - based on the current proposals for an EU directive. This change of policy has improved the prospects of reaching a compromise at the European level.
FR 19.02.04 // FAZ 20.02.04 // NZ 20.02.04

Conference committee still negotiates compromise on migration reform

Even though representatives of the red-green government coalition and the Union opposition parties (CDU/CSU) have gained some common ground concerning migration reform, the seven-member working group set up by the parliamentary conference committee has so far failed to reach a compromise on the planned legislation.

In the run up to the current round of talks, representatives of both the Greens and the CDU/CSU have expressed their willingness to compromise. The Greens have hinted that they are willing to make some concessions concerning the planned credit system for admitting labour migrants. In return, however, representatives of the Greens and the SPD have demanded that CDU/CSU no longer insist on maintaining the general legal ban on recruiting labour from non-EU countries. Even though the CDU/CSU has so far ruled out any compromise on this point, Peter Müller (CDU), the speaker of the opposition delegation at the talks, has presented an alternative proposal, according to which migration inflows of highly-qualified specialists and self-employed entrepreneurs could be facilitated. According to Müller's proposal, a privileged treatment of labour migrants from EU accession states would also be conceivable.

At the latest round of talks in late February, however, the working group was unable to reach a detailed agreement, even though some progress has been made. Concerning labour migration, an agreement has been reached to remove proposals for a credit-based system of labour migration from the government bill. Furthermore, the working group has generally agreed to include humanitarian provisions for hardship cases in the bill. Under the proposals, rejected asylum seekers can be granted a regular residence titled (instead of a mere toleration certificate) if they cannot be repatriated to their home countries through no fault of their own. Finally, government and opposition parties have also generally agreed that the planned migration reform should - concerning the recognition of asylum seekers - be based on the current proposals for a EU directive on asylum policy. This is significant as the EU proposal would extend protection to refugees have been subject to non-governmental and gender-specific persecution.
SZ 02.02.04 // FTD 03.02.04 // SZ 03.02.04 // Handelsblatt 05.02.04 // FR 07.02.04 // SZ 09.02.04 // FR 12.02.04 // SZ 27.02.04 // FR 28.02.04 // SZ 28.02.04 // Welt 28.02.04

Campaign for granting residence title to refugees that have been long-term residents

Representatives of the refugee organisation Pro Asyl have submitted an appeal to the parliamentary petition committee, demanding that permanent residence titles should be granted to refugees who have been long-term residents of Germany. The appeal, which has been initiated by the refugee organisation Pro Asyl, and is supported by former federal minister Christian Schwarz-Schilling (CDU) and several other celebrities from politics, culture and science, has been signed by about 40,000 citizens. The appeal calls on parliamentarians to include an amendment in the planned migration reform that grants permanent residence titles to refugees who have been long-term resi-dents of Germany. Under current law, these residents are only granted "toleration certificates".

At present, approximately 200,000 refugees are living in Germany on the basis of toleration certificates, 150,000 of whom have been residents for more than five years. The initiators of the appeal criticise that the planned reform of Germany's migration law falls short of resolving this problem by failing to include regulations on granting long-term residence titles to these refugees.
taz 06.02.04 // FAZ 12.02.04 // FR12.02.04

Hesse states legislature plans to pass headscarf ban for civil servants

Following legislative bills initiated by the state governments of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Lower Saxony, setting out to ban female Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves at work in public schools, state legislatures in Saarland and Hesse have been addressed with similar initiatives.

In the state of Saarland, whose CDU-led government had originally planned to ban all civil servants from wearing headscarves at work, representatives of the state government and the SPD opposition have agreed on a parliamentary bill for banning headscarves for Muslim teachers only, while explicitly allowing the display of Christian and Jewish symbols or vestments.

The CDU-led state government of Hesse, on the other hand, has proposed a law that would ban all civil servants, and not only Muslim teachers, from wearing headscarves at work. According to the bill, Christian and Jewish symbols and vestments would still be allowed.

In North-Rhine Westphalia, the SPD-led government has proposed a headscarf ban "with a reservation". In accordance with a legal expertise commissioned by the SPD parliamentary party in the North-Rhine Westphalian state legislature, the state government has proposed that female Muslim teachers should be banned from wearing headscarves at school, with the reservation that the ban will only be enforced if school conferences or educational authorities decide that a teacher's wearing of a headscarf has (or would) disturbed the peace at a particular school.

Rhineland-Palatinate, Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg and the five East German states, on the other hand, have so far refrained from presenting legislative proposals for passing a ban on headscarves. In Bremen, the SPD-CDU coalition is planning to reach an agreement on the issue by the end of March. In Berlin, the SPD is in favour of banning all religious symbols in all public services, whereas the PDS, the SPD's coalition partner in the state government, has so far rejected these proposals.
taz 05.02.04 // Spiegel online 10.02.04 // FAZ 11.02.04 // Welt 12.02.04 // taz 19.02.04

Administrative court rules that passport photograph with headscarf is admissible

The Kassel administrative court has ruled that Muslim women are entitled to wear a headscarf on passport photographs, provided that they can still be identified "without any doubt". In the underlying case, the local authorities of Baunatal had rejected a passport application of a German citizen of Turkish origin on the grounds that the woman is wearing a headscarf on the passport photograph. The authority stated that, under current passport regulations, women have to submit photographs without a headscarf, the only exception being that applicants submit a document by a Muslim congregation certifying that because of her religious beliefs a woman is not permitted to have her picture taken without a headscarf.

The woman had appealed against the administrative decision on the grounds of her religious beliefs. Her appeal has been upheld by the 3rd Senate of the court in Kassel (Hesse). The court has ruled that, according to the principle of religious freedom enshrined in the German constitution, the claimant has the right to both inner and outer religious freedom. Furthermore, the local authorities are not entitled to insist on respective documents from a religious congregation. (Ref. 3 G 1916/03)
taz 05.02.04 // FR 06.02.04

Federal Border Patrol officers stand trial because of death of refugee during deportation

The local court in Frankfurt/Main has begun deliberations in the trial charging three officers of the Federal Border Patrol (BGS) with the death of the Sudanese refugee Aamir Ageeb, who died of suffocation during deportation in May 1999. The three officers have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, facing a maximum penalty of a five-year prison sentence.

The first testimonies in the trial have shown that BGS officers in general had not been specifically trained for carrying out deportations, and that no detailed regulations existed at that time for cases where deportees resisted deportation. In the aftermath of the death of the Sudanese refugee, the federal government has amended regulations for the deportation of non-German refugees.

Outside the Frankfurt court, refugee and human rights organisations were holding a vigil, criticising that the investigations had taken so long and had delayed the start of the trial.
Welt 02.02.04 // taz 03.02.04 // Welt 03.02.04 // FR 10.02.04

Asylum statistics

In February 2004, a total of 2,989 people have submitted a petition for political asylum in Germany, continuing the downward trend of recent months. Compared to January 2004, the number of applicants has decreased by 778 people (- 20.6 %). Compared to February 2003, application figures have even been falling by 1,497 (-33.4 %). On the whole, the number of asylum applications during the first two months of 2004 has decreased by 3,839 people (-36.2 %), compared to the same period of the previous year. During February 2004, applicants' main countries of origin were Turkey (366), Serbia and Montenegro (289) and the Russian Federation (254), followed by Vietnam (139) and Iran (111).

The Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees has decided on the asylum applications of 6,737 people in February 2004, 97 (1.4 %) of whom have been recognised as entitled to political asylum according to the German constitution. A further 103 applicants have been granted protection against deportation according to §51 Par.1 Foreigners Act (AuslG). The applications of 4,581 people (68.0 %) have been turned down, 134 of whom have nevertheless been granted a deportation stay according to §53 Foreigners Act (AuslG). The cases of a further 1,956 people (29.0 %) have been closed for other reasons (e.g. because applicants' withdrawal of their petitions).
BMI Press statement 09.03.04

February 2004

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