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efms Migration Report

December 2002

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EU interior ministers reach agreement on sharing responsibility for asylum applications

After years of debate, EU interior ministers have finally reached an agreement concerning the question of which member state is responsible for asylum applications of foreign nationals that have entered the EU illegally. Under the agreement, the member state through which an asylum applicant has first entered the EU will take responsibility for his or her asylum application for a period of twelve months.

If refugees decide to migrate to another EU country during this period, this country will be entitled to send them back to the original receiving country. If it is impossible to establish the details of an illegal entry, asylum applications will be processed by the member state where the applicant currently takes residence, provided that he or she has been resident of this country for at least five months. In order to enable authorities to identify asylum applicants, the EU will set up a police database called Eurodac for storing and assigning fingerprints of asylum applicants. The database is supposed be operational by mid-January 2003.

However, entry and residence criteria will continue to be of secondary importance for allocating responsibility for asylum procedures. Primary responsibility will still be allocated to the EU member state where family members of an asylum applicant have taken residence. Similarly, a country will be responsible if it has already granted a visa or residence permit to a refugee.

EU interior ministers have still not reached a consensus on harmonised criteria for recognising refugees. On account of objections by the German interior ministry, the EU Council was unable to pass a guideline establishing a common legal definition for "refugee". The matter has been taken off the agenda and postponed for an indefinite period.
dpa 19.12.02 // FR 19.12.02 // NN 19.12.02 // SZ 19.12.02 // Press statement Pro Asyl 19.12.02 // FR 20.12.02

Federal Constitutional Court's rejection of migration bill sparks new debate

The Federal Constitutional Court has upheld an appeal against the new migration law, which had been lodged by six federal states with a CDU/CSU-led government. Two weeks before the law was scheduled to take effect, it has thus been declared void by the court. According to the majority opinion of judges at the highest court in Germany, Mr. Wowereit, the mayor of Berlin, who had chaired the session of the Bundesrat (the upper house of the German parliament) on 22nd March 2002 when the migration bill was passed, has violated the German constitution. For these formal reasons, the approval of the bill in the Bundesrat and, consequently, the entire migration law has been declared void.

Shortly after the court ruling, leading politicians of the red-green government coalition have expressed their intention to re-introduce the bill unchanged into the legislative process as early as January 2003. As the government coalition does not hold a majority in the Bundesrat, it hopes to reach a consensus with the opposition in the conciliation committee, which is formed by representatives from both houses of parliament. Federal Interior Minister Otto Schily (SPD) has "expressed his willingness to enter into negotiations" with the opposition. In a similar vein, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the parliamentary leader of the Greens, has expressed her willingness to compromise, provided that the humanitarian aims of the government bill are preserved.

Whereas Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber (CSU) has branded these plans as a "provocation", and Hesse premier Roland Koch has left no doubt that the Union parties (CDU and CSU) will take "no further step" towards the position of the federal government, the Union party leadership has announced that it will introduce its unchanged list of 91 amendments to the migration bill into the parliamentary process, as the basis for negotiations with the government coalition in the parliamentary conciliation committee.

Furthermore, Angela Merkel, chairwoman of the Union parties, and Edmund Stoiber (CSU) have agreed on a common strategy for upcoming talks. In a statement, Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Stoiber have underlined that the Union parties will not compromise on the following points: Firstly, immigration has to be strictly regulated according to "Germany's national interests". Secondly, the Union parties will accept no further grounds for granting refugee status, thus rejecting all proposals to go beyond the protection provided by the Geneva Convention on Refugees. Thirdly, integration measures must not be restricted to newcomers, but also include foreign nationals that already are residents of Germany.

Whereas Volker Beck, secretary of the Green parliamentary party, has expressed doubts as to whether the opposition parties are really willing to compromise, Otto Schily (SPD) remains optimistic that a compromise can be reached with the opposition after state parliamentary elections in Hesse and Lower Saxony on 2nd February. Wolfgang Gerhardt, the FDP parliamentary leader, has announced that his party's plans to invite all parliamentary leaders to a round of talks; his aim is to reach an all-party compromise before the next session of the Bundesrat, which is scheduled for 14th February 2003. Several representatives of employers' associations, churches and charitable organisations have urged politicians to reach an agreement on the migration bill as soon as possible.

The constitutional court ruling has also affected some measures which have already been implemented since 1st July 2002. For example, officials at the Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees will again decide the asylum applications individually without being bound by directives. What is more, there has to be a new appointment for the contentious post of Federal Commissioner for Asylum Affairs. The ruling has also led to uncertainty concerning the coordination of the planned language and integration courses, as the new migration law was to give the sole responsibility in this matter to the Federal Office.
dpa 18.12.02 // Spiegel 18.12.02 // SZ 19.12.02 // FAZ 19.12.02 // Financial Times Deutschland 19.12.02 // FR 19.12 02 // FR 20.12.02 // SZ 20.12.02 //FAZ 21.12.02 // FR 21.12.02 // Welt 21.12.02 // Welt am Sonntag 22.12.02 // SZ 23.12.02 // Welt 24.12.02 // FAZ 27.12.02 // FR 27.12.02 // SZ 30.12.02

Conference of German Interior Ministers: Ethnic minorities from Kosovo will not be granted permanent residence permits

Urgent appeals by churches, charitable organisations and human rights organisations notwithstanding, the Conference of German Interior Ministers has refused to grant permanent residence permits to Romany people and other ethnic-minority refugees from Kosovo. According to Kuno Böse (CDU), Bremen's interior minister and chairman of the Conference, ministers expect Kosovo refugees to return to their home territories voluntarily, but do also not rule out deportations as the last resort. However, members of the Serb ethnic minority will be exempt from repatriation measures for the time being. What is more, ministers have agreed to carry out forced repatriation measures gradually and only after prior consultation with the UN administration in Kosovo (UNMIK).

The decision to repatriate ethnic minorities to Kosovo has met with criticism by Marieluise Beck (Greens), the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, and Michael Steiner, the German UN-representative in Kosovo. Mr. Steiner has warned that the forced repatriation of refugees could put the fragile peace process in Kosovo at risk. Meanwhile, Federal Interior Minister Otto Schily (SPD) has announced that he will hold talks with UNMIK representatives in order to prepare repatriation measures.

Interior ministers also agreed that, for the time being, there will be no forced repatriation of Afghan refugees. However, criminal offenders and persons suspected of being involved in terrorist activities can still be deported.

In a related matter, ministers were unable to reach a consensus on how to ensure that doctors who carry out medical checks on deportees restrict their medical reports to whether a person is, from a medical point of view, able to travel. According to Mr. Böse, many doctors have refused to write such a report, arguing that refugees will not receive adequate medical treatment in their home countries. Mr. Böse has emphasised that evaluations of medical facilities in refugees' home countries are not the responsibility of doctors, but of German embassies in respective countries.

Proposals by several federal states on how to resolve this issue have not yet been formally voted on. The state of Hesse, for example, has proposed to restrict the scope of medical reports; North-Rhine Westphalia has called for setting up "pools of doctors" that co-operate closely with local authorities. Ministers plan to involve medical officers in medical check-ups of refugees. In addition, ministers have commissioned the chairman of the Conference to hold talks on the issue with the President of the Federal Medical Board.
Press Statement by the Federal Government Commissioner for Foreign Resident Affairs 04.12.02 // SZ 04.12.02 // taz 04.12.02 // FR 05.12.02 // Press Statement by the Hanseatic City of Bremen / Der Senat 06.12.02 // taz 06.12.02 // FR 07.12.02 // taz 07.12.02

Federal Administrative Court clarifies conditions for residence authorisations

The Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG) has ruled that local authorities violate federal law when they refuse, on account of doubts concerning the identity and nationality of asylum applicants, to grant residence authorisations (according to §70 Asylum Procedure Act) to asylum seekers who have been granted semi-asylum status according to §51 Par.1 Foreigners Act. Local authorities had refused to grant residence authorisations when applicants had allegedly made untruthful statements about their identity and nationality, or had not fully co-operated with authorities in establishing their personal details.

The court has thus upheld an appeal lodged by three refugees from Sudan and Iraq, respectively, who had not been issued a residence authorisation, even though, in the opinion of the court, these applicants had fulfilled all the necessary conditions. The applicants had been recognised as political refugees (according to §51 Par.1 Foreigners Act), i.e. authorities have acknowledged that the repatriation of these refugees to their home country or to a third country is "impossible for the foreseeable future".

The court has ruled that local authorities are not entitled to refuse residence authorisations if refugees cannot be repatriated in the foreseeable future. In addition, the court has made it clear that doubts about the identity or nationality of such persons, or their insufficient co-operation with the authorities, do not affect their legal residence status (BVerwG 1 C 3.02; 1 C 12.02; 1 C 25.02).
Press statement Federal Administrative Court 18.12.02

Court ruling: Good German mark in school report is sufficient proof of language skills

The Administrative Court of Hesse has ruled that foreign residents applying for a residence permit (according §15 Foreigners Act) can prove the sufficiency of their German language skills by means of a good German mark in their school report. The court has thus upheld an appeal by a 16-year-old Turkish national who, for reasons of insufficient German language skills, had been refused a residence permit by local authorities, even though he had a secondary school certificate with the mark 2 in German. According to the court, this mark is sufficient proof of the language skills of the applicant. Consequently, authorities are not entitled to doubt the validity of the school report.
dpa 03.12.02 // FR 04.12.02

Inflows of ethnic German immigrants (Aussiedler) continued to decrease in 2002

91,416 ethnic German immigrants (Aussiedler) and accompanying family members have entered Germany in 2002, a decrease of 7,000 persons over the previous year. Only 22% of entries have been recognised as ethnic Germans and are able to speak the German language (compared to 24% in 2000, and to 26% in 2001); all the other entries are accompanying family members. Similar to entries, applications for ethnic immigrant status have also continued to fall. Whereas the total of respective applications amounted to 106,895 in 2000, and to 83,812 in 2001, it has fallen to 66,833 applications in 2002.

Jochen Welt (SPD), the Federal Government Commissioner for Aussiedler and Ethnic Minorities, has repeatedly pointed out that the insufficient language skills of accompanying family members are a major obstacle to the integration of Aussiedler families into German society. Mr. Welt has also called on opposition parties to refrain from blocking the passing of the government migration bill, as in his view it is "indispensable for regulating inflows of Aussiedler and fostering their integration".

The migration bill, which has been declared void by the Federal Constitutional Court for formal reasons, stipulates that not only Aussiedler themselves, but also their accompanying family members have to provide proof of their sufficient German language skills before they are allowed to migrate to Germany. Moreover, the bill also plans to include Aussiedler and their families in government-sponsored language learning programmes.
Press statement BMI 02.01.03 // FAZ 03.01.03

Number of asylum seekers continues to fall

In December 2002, a total of 4,694 applicants have submitted petitions for political asylum in Germany, a decrease of 816 persons (-14.8%) over the previous month, and a decrease of 882 persons (-15.8%) over December 2001. In December 2002, applicants' main countries of origin were Turkey (624) and Iraq (616), followed by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (395), the Russian Federation (228) and India (203).

During December 2002, the Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees has passed decisions on 7,242 asylum applicants, 117 (1.6%) of whom have been recognised as entitled to political asylum (according to Art.16a Basic Law); a further 151 applicants (2.1%) have been granted protection against deportation (according to §51 Par.1 Foreigners Act). The applications of 5,064 persons (69.9%) have been rejected.

Compared to 2001, asylum applications have continued to decrease in 2002. In the entire year 2002, a total of 71,172 persons has submitted asylum petitions in Germany, a decrease of 19.4% (17,160 persons) over the previous year (total of applicants in 2001: 88,287 persons). In a long-term perspective, the figures for 2002 have marked the lowest level of applications since 1987. Over the entire year 2002, applicants' main countries of origin have been Iraq (10,242), Turkey (9,575) and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (6,679), followed by the Russian Federation (4,058), Afghanistan (2,772) and Iran (2,642). Other important source countries include Vietnam (2,340), India (2,246), Syria (1,829) und Algeria (1,743). Compared to 2001, the most striking change has been the sharp decrease in applicants from Iraq (-40.3%) and Afghanistan (-52.5%).

During the entire year 2002, the Nuremberg-based Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees has passed a total of 130,128 asylum decision. No more than 2,379 persons (1.8%) have been recognised as entitled to political asylum, the lowest recognition rate since 1982 (the first year for which respective statistical data are available). A further 4,130 persons (3.2%) have been granted "semi-asylum" status according to § 51 Par.1 Foreigners Act and are thus protected against deportation. The Federal Office has rejected 61.8% of asylum applications (80,443); the remaining 33.2% (43,176) of cases have been closed for other reasons (e.g. when applications were withdrawn or abandoned).

Compared to the previous year, the case statistics reveal major changes: In 2001, 5.3% of all applicants were recognised as entitled to political asylum, and a further 15.8% were granted protection against deportation according to § 51 Par.1 Foreigners Act. Whereas the Federal Office has stated that this decrease is mainly due to the large number of cases of applicants from Yugoslavia which were completed in 2002, the watchdog group Pro Asyl has claimed that recognition procedures have been carried too restrictively, as can be seen by the much lower recognition quota for asylum applicants from Iraq. According to the statistics, every second applicant from Iraq was at least granted protection against deportation in 2001, whereas only every fourth received such protection in 2002.
Press statement BMI 08.01.03 // dpa 09.01.03 // FR 09.01.03

December 2002

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