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efms Migration Report

November 2003

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EU interior ministers make some progress on details of harmonising refugee policy

At a meeting in Brussels, EU interior ministers have been unable to agree on the introduction of an EU-wide standardised list of "safe third countries", which was meant to speed up asylum procedures in EU member states. According to proposals discussed at the meeting, asylum seekers who enter European soil from one of these "safe third countries" would be banned from entering asylum procedure and sent back immediately or, alternatively, only be allowed to enter fast-track asylum procedures. However, EU interior ministers have been unable to reach an agreement, for instance on the question of whether asylum seekers from these third countries should be entitled to an individual review of their asylum petitions.

Both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International (AI) have criticised these proposals for a list of safe third countries. Ruud Lubbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has argued that the UNHCR does not oppose the concept of safe third countries "in principle", but he has also advised ministers against sending asylum seekers back to countries where their protection is not sufficiently guaranteed. In addition, Mr. Lubbers has criticised plans that would "shift the burden to transit countries and refugees' countries of origin".

In a related issue, EU interior ministers have passed guidelines on group deportations of foreign residents who live in an EU member state without any legal residence status. The guidelines resolve details, in particular concerning expenditures and responsibilities, of deportations where two or more EU member states jointly book charter flights in order to repatriate illegal residents.

Furthermore, interior ministers have agreed that illegal residents of EU member states are to be granted residence titles for six months if they have been victims of human trafficking organisations or if human traffickers have "aided and abetted their illegal immigration". However, such residence titles will only be granted on condition that the illegal immigrants concerned are willing to co-operate with the authorities, provide evidence and testify in criminal investigations and legal proceedings against human traffickers or smugglers. During their six-month residence, which can on certain conditions be extended, the foreign residents are to receive state benefits and support. According to EU interior ministers, these residents can also be granted a work permit if national governments pass respective regulations, i.e. the question of granting work permits is to be resolved on a national basis.

In addition, EU interior ministers have also reached a consensus on setting up a central European Border Protection Agency which, starting in 2005, is to coordinate the protection of the EU's exterior borders. The agency will be responsible, among other things, for coordinating the repatriation of illegal immigrants, training border guards, harmonising standards as well as providing technical and financial support for border surveillance.
FR 06.11.03 // SZ 07.11.03 // FR 08.11.03 // FR 12.11.03 // dpa 24.11.03 // FR 27.11.03 // FAZ 28.11.03 // FR 28.11.03

EU-Commission and Albania reach agreement on readmission of illegal immigrants

Following more than twelve months of negotiations, the EU Commission and Albania have signed a readmission agreement, which is to take effect as soon as December 2003. Under the agreement, the government of Albania has committed itself to readmit not only Albanian nationals that have illegally entered an EU country, but also third-country nationals who have illegally migrated to the EU via Albania.

Following similar agreements with Hong Kong, Macao and Sri Lanka, Albania is the first European country to sign such a readmission agreement with the European Union. EU Commissioner Antonio Vitorino has expressed the hope that Morocco will enter into a similar agreement. However, according to Mr. Vitorino, the government of Morocco will only do so if EU member states are willing to offer Morocco legal immigration quotas in return.
dpa 06.11.03 // SZ 07.11.03 // Press statement BMI 27.11.03

Parliamentary mediation committee fails to reach compromise on labour migration

In the run-up to a second round of negotiations between government and opposition parties in the parliamentary mediation committee, preliminary sub-committee meetings have failed to reach a compromise. On the contrary, representatives of the opposition CDU/CSU parties have insisted on scrapping key elements of the red-green government proposals on labour migration.

According to Saarland Premier Peter Müller (CDU), who also acts as the chairman of the parliamentary mediation committee, the opposition parties insist on maintaining the general ban on the employment of foreign nationals, and will reject all efforts to introduce a credit system that will allow migration inflows of highly qualified specialists from non-EU countries.

The migration bill presented by the red-green government coalition, on the other hand, calls for a credit-based system of allowing migration inflows of foreign labour. Under the proposals, successful applicants can be granted a residence and work permit even if they have not yet signed an employment contract in Germany. In addition, the government bill commissions the two houses of parliament to set an annual quota for the immigration of labour migrants, including the possibility of not allowing any labour migration inflows at all.

Volker Beck, secretary of the Green parliamentary party, has conceded that at present there is little demand in Germany for large inflows of non-German labour migrants. However, he has also emphasised that the proposed labour market regulations are a key element of the government migration bill as the demand for non-German labour will increase considerably in future, especially after the year 2010. Consequently, Mr. Beck draws the conclusion that it is essential to pass and test respective regulations in good time. In addition, he warned the opposition parties that negotiations in the parliamentary mediation committee could break down entirely if the opposition parties continue to reject all government proposals for a reform of labour migration law.

The second round of negotiations in the sub-committee, where the regulations of labour migration was on the agenda, has also failed to bring a compromise. Even though Volker Beck has called the negotiations "extremely difficult", leading representatives of the SPD have expressed the hope that a compromise can still be reached. For example, Cornelie Sonntag-Wolgast (SPD), chairwoman of the interior policy committee in the Bundestag, the lower house of the federal parliament, has hinted that the proposed credit-based system of labour migration could be further restricted in order to reach an agreement with the opposition CDU/CSU parties.

At a third meeting of the sub-committee in December, participants will also put integration policy on the agenda. In this context, interior policy spokespersons of the opposition CDU/CSU parties, at a meeting in Hamburg, have demanded that the federal government meets the total expenditure of the planned language courses for migrants. In addition, migrants should be required to contribute a maximum of 2 € to every course session. According to government proposals course expenditure is to be shared between the federal and state governments, and participants of the language courses will be required to contribute 1 € to each course session.
dpa 02.11.03 // FR 03.11.03 // dpa 13.11.03 // SZ 13.11.03 // FR 17.11.03 // SZ 17.11.03 // Financial Times Deutschland 18.11.03

Federal Interior Minister demands repatriation of ethnic minorities to Kosovo

Otto Schily (SPD), the Federal Interior Minister, has called on state governments to increase the number of ethnic-minority refugees that are repatriated from Germany to Kosovo. In view of the 33,000 ethnic-minority refugees who are still residents of Germany, even though their residence entitlements have expired, Mr. Schily has called recent repatriation measures "unsatisfactory" and "in need of improvement". Even though Germany has reached an agreement with the UN administration in Kosovo to repatriate a total of 1,000 ethnic-minority refugees in 2003, actual repatriation figures are still significantly below that level, according to Mr. Schily.

The refugee organisation Pro Asyl has rejected Mr. Schily's demands, repeating the call on the government to grant residence entitlements to ethnic-minority refugees from Kosovo.
FR 01.11.03 // taz 01.11.03

Conference of Interior Ministers takes decision on repatriation of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan

At their autumn meeting in Jena (Thuringia), federal and state interior ministers have reached an agreement on the repatriation of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Fritz Behrens (SPD), State Interior Minister of North-Rhine Westphalia, ministers have drawn the conclusion that at present it would be "irresponsible" to deport refugees to these two countries. However, interior ministers have also announced plans to commence repatriation measures "in spring 2004, if feasible", without setting an exact date.

In the run-up to the autumn meeting of the Conference of Interior Ministers, the Hamburg Senator for Interior Affairs, Dirk Nockemann (Schill Party), has announced that the Hamburg state government plans to start with the repatriation of single male refugees to Afghanistan in spring. He and other interior ministers have called on refugees to return to their home countries voluntarily and contribute to the reconstruction efforts there. They have also pointed out that they prefer voluntary repatriations to deportations and are willing to expand current incentive programmes for the return of refugees to their home countries.

Otto Schily (SPD), the Federal Interior Minister, has stressed that the protection granted to refugees is only "temporary", rejecting calls by Refugee Councils and the refugee organisation Pro Asyl to grant permanent residence entitlement to refugees who have been living in Germany for several years. Marieluise Beck (Greens), the Federal Government Commissioner for Foreign Resident Affairs and Integration, has also criticised state interior ministers for focusing on repatriation programmes only and refusing to take residence entitlements into consideration for Afghan refugees who have been living in Germany for a long time.

A few days after the autumn meeting of interior ministers, Klaus Buß (SPD), the Interior Minister of Schleswig-Holstein, has announced that his state will extend its protection against deportation for Afghan refugees for another six months, as the current moratorium on deportations ends in December. Two other SPD-led state governments, North-Rhine Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, have also agreed to extend their protection for Afghan refugees for half a year.
FR 19.11.03 // SZ 20.11.03 // FR 21.11.03 // Press statement Thuringian Ministry of the Interior 21.11.03 // SZ 21.11.03 // FR 22.11.03 // SZ 22.11.03 // Welt 22.11.03 // FR 28.11.03

State governments of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg present bills for banning teachers from wearing headscarves in public schools

The state governments of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg have been the first federal states to present bills that would ban Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves during work at public schools.

The government cabinet of Baden-Württemberg has passed legislative proposals that would ban Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves during classes, whereas the display of "Christian and occidental religious and cultural traditions and values" will continue to be admissible. In order to justify the unequal treatment of Muslim and Christian symbols in public education, Baden-Württemberg Premier Erwin Teufel (CDU) and Minister for Cultural Affairs, Annette Schavan (CDU), have argued that headscarves could be regarded as symbols of "political convictions" (Teufel) as well as a "refusal of cultural integration and a symbol of the long history of discrimination against women" (Schavan). Christian symbols, on the other hand, are in accordance with the educational goals laid down in Baden-Württemberg's state constitution, according to Mr. Teufel and Mrs. Schavan.

The Bavarian government has also agreed on the key elements of state legislation that would ban Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves at work. Similar to Baden-Württemberg, the bill does not ban Christian symbols and vestments. At the cabinet meeting, Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber (CSU) has referred to Bavaria as a "society founded on Christian and occidental principles", emphasising that the state of Bavaria will not tolerate public school teachers whose outer appearance "can be interpreted as an approval of fundamentally different cultural values". According to Monika Hohlmeier (CSU), the Bavarian Minister for Cultural Affairs, wearing a headscarf at work is increasingly regarded as a symbol of Islamic fundamentalism. In her view, the headscarf ban should be passed to counteract this impression, irrespective of the individual motives underlying a Muslim teacher's decision to wear a headscarf during classes.

With these government bills the state governments of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg respond to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, according to which teachers can only be banned from wearing headscarves at school if the ban has been passed in an appropriate form by state legislatures. Even though the court ruling concedes that state laws are entitled to respect local "school traditions, the denominational structure and (à) religious traditions" of a particular state population, it also calls on state legislature to treat symbols of different religions equally. Consequently, several legal experts have raised doubts as to whether the bills in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg are in accordance with the requirements laid down by the Federal Constitutional Court.
Spiegel 03.11.03 // Press statement CSU 11.11.03 // Welt 12.11.03

Asylum statistics

In November 2003, a total of 3,830 applicants have submitted a petition for political asylum in Germany, a decrease by 11.8 % (- 513 persons) over the previous month, and by 30.5 % (- 1,680 persons) over the same month of last year.

During the first eleven months of the year 2003, the Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees has registered a decrease in asylum application figures of 28.9 % (- 19,157 persons), compared to the same period of the previous year. Similar to October, applicants' five main countries of origin remain to be Turkey (445), Serbia and Montenegro (440), the Russian Federation (279), Vietnam (182) and Iran (155).

In November 2003, the Nuremberg-based Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees has decided the cases of 8,587 applicants, 105 (1.2 %) of whom have been recognised as entitled to political asylum. A further group of 78 persons (0.9 %) have been granted protection against deportation according to §51 Par.1 Foreigners Act. The petitions of 5,758 persons (67.1 %) have been rejected. The cases of another 2,646 persons have been closed for other reasons (e.g. because applicants have withdrawn their petitions).
Press statement BMI 14.12.03

November 2003

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