The Asylum Debate and the Revision of German Asylum and Nationality Laws

2014

Germany

Borders Citizenship

On September 19, 2014, the Bundesrat adopts changes to German asylum and nationality law proposed by the federal government, clearing the way for the designation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia as “safe countries of origin”. As a result, people from the these states can henceforth only claim asylum in Germany under exceptional circumstances.

Revision of nationality law:: From January 1, 2000, the system of “obligatory opting” has applied to children born in Germany to parents of non-EU nationality. According to this regulation, such children, if holding both German citizenship and that of their parents’ country of origin, must choose by the age of 23 which nationality to retain. [see: Amendment of the German Nationality Act, 1999-2000] “Obligatory opting” was modified in 2014 by decision of the Bundesrat, no longer applying in cases where, by the age of 21, an individual has spent at least eight years in Germany, six years attending school in Germany, or has acquired an academic or vocational qualification in Germany.

Revision of asylum law:: Asylum applicants and those residing in Germany under a temporary stay of deportation may now seek employment following a minimum three-month period of residence, rather than the previous nine. However, up to a period of 15 months, they remain subject to the so-called “priority check”, whereby German and EU job applicants are given priority in the hiring process. Changes to the residence obligation stipulate that asylum applicants and persons subject to a stay of deportation can now move freely throughout Germany from the fourth month of residence. Exceptions apply to individuals charged with violating German drug law or convicted of a criminal offense. Furthermore, the so-called “principle of payment-in-kind”, whereby asylum applicants receive vouchers in lieu of cash for the purchase of basic goods, will now be restricted to the period of residence in a reception shelter immediately following arrival.

Safe countries of origin:: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia have been designated safe countries of origin, in which political persecution is no longer deemed a significant danger. Persons originating in these countries are no longer able to claim asylum in Germany. While exceptions are permitted, their implementation in practice remains questionable. As the majority of asylum claims originating from these states are made by Roma, who are subjected there to massive racist persecution, they stand to be most directly impacted by the new regulations.

Resistance to admitting refugees along with a set of concomitant racist attitudes, have increased throughout Europe in the last several years. In the media, the debate is inflamed by fears and fantasies of a “flood” of refugees “abusing” asylum status, similar tropes to those aired in the early 1990s (“the boat is full”, “onslaught of the poor”). [[see: Passage of the Asylum Compromise, 1993] Terms such as “economic refugees” and “poverty migrants”, who would seek to take advantage of Germany’s social system, increasingly surface in the public discourse. This has been accompanied by an increase in acts of racist violence perpetrated upon refugees: the number of incidents of violence or agitation directed against asylum-seekers doubled in Germany in 2013. In 2014 the rate increased further. 46 attacks on refugee shelters were registered for the year 2014, 23 of which involved acts of arson. In the first half of 2014, 155 anti-refugee demonstrations and public gatherings took place in Germany.