During the year many countries in the EU and Southeast Europe experienced an unprecedented wave of migration from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, consisting of a mix of asylum seekers/potential refugees, economic migrants, and trafficking victims, among others. For simplicity, this report will refer to these populations as “migrants and asylum seekers” if more specific information is not available.
Access to Asylum: Laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. In the first 11 months of the year, 964,000 migrants and asylum seekers arrived in the country, more than four times the number in 2014. Federal, state, and local authorities registered almost all new arrivals under existing laws and regulations, although some states did not have enough personnel and facilities to register and accommodate each day’s arrivals on the same day. NGOs and civil society organizations in all states provided additional support for new arrivals, including accommodation, meals, transportation, childcare, and medical and psychological care.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is a party to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who attempt to enter the country through a “safe country of transit,” i.e., a member state of the EU, excluding Greece, or a country adhering to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. In August, as the flow of migrants and asylum seekers increased sharply, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, citing humanitarian grounds, issued a new guideline that suspended application of the Dublin procedure to Syrians. Some cases already in progress were completed. The Interior Ministry stated there was no blanket denial of asylum to applicants from safe countries of origin or transit, and all have an opportunity to appeal. Such an appeal, however, would not prevent authorities from returning applicants to their country of origin or transit before a court rules on the appeal. During the year authorities returned 131 Syrians to other EU countries under Dublin procedures.
The Federal Interior Ministry continued its existing policy of excluding Greece as a safe country to which it could return migrants and asylum seekers, citing systemic failures in Greece’s asylum system.
In October the Bundestag passed legislation to expand the list of safe countries to include Albania, Montenegro, and Kosovo, stating that these countries’ governments do not persecute persons for political reasons. Consequently, authorities rarely approved applications for asylum by persons from these countries. In making this decision, the Bundestag cited the reforms those countries had made as part of their efforts to become candidates for EU membership. Some NGOs criticized the decision, asserting that the Sinti and Romani populations continued to face social discrimination in these countries.
Refoulement: Reports continued that authorities deported Roma and others to Kosovo, and human rights organizations questioned whether an agreement with Kosovo provided adequate safeguards for failed asylum seekers whom authorities deported. The federal government considered the security situation for returnees in Kosovo, including for members of the Romani minority, to be stable.
In September a group of 40 Roma from the Balkans, mostly children, started a protest in Hamburg against the city’s order to deport them. A spokesperson for the group stated they were seeking asylum because they would face persecution and racial discrimination in their home countries.
Refugee Abuse: Some human rights organizations continued to criticize the “fast procedure” at the Frankfurt Airport. Using this procedure the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees reaches a decision on asylum applications within two days and detains applicants at the airport for this period. An applicant could appeal a denial of asylum, and authorities of would make a final decision within two weeks, while the applicant remained in detention at the airport. If authorities denied the appeal, they deported the applicant. Authorities maintained that they applied this procedure only to persons coming from safe countries of origin. The NGO Pro Asyl stated the number of asylum seekers rejected under the fast procedure was relatively low and the vast majority of asylum seekers entered the country and filed their applications from inside the country.
Although initial statistics were preliminary, instances of assault, including arson and hate-speech graffiti, on asylum seekers and attacks on state-provided asylum homes increased throughout the country. Some resulted in severe injuries and complete destruction of asylum homes. The BKA’s figures for the year showed that authorities registered 1,005 offenses committed at refugee and asylum shelters or directly aimed at the shelters, compared to 199 incidents in 2014. Authorities categorized 901 of these as politically motivated offenses with a clear right-wing motivation (compared to 177 in 2014). The total number included 173 violent offenses (there were 28 in 2014). The BKA described 92 of these incidents as arson against both occupied and uninhabited asylum homes in several states (compared to six in 2014). The interior minister stated there were no signs of coordinated, organized structures behind these attacks.
On September 4, assailants set an asylum shelter in Heppenheim, Hesse, on fire. Several refugees suffered from smoke inhalation, and one person sustained severe injuries when he jumped to safety from a window. Police were investigating, but arrested no suspects as of December 10.
In June a Hamburg state parliamentary inquiry reported that Hamburg authorities conducted medical exams on the genitals and breasts of young, unaccompanied migrants to determine their age, a practice that the Hamburg Medical Chamber described as not medically justifiable. Hamburg authorities stated the exams were voluntary, but that if asylum seekers refused to participate, they were categorized as adults.
Employment: After being in the country for three months, asylum seekers may work or start apprenticeships and job training programs. During the first 15 months, however, employers must give priority to a citizen of an EU member state. Other hurdles to employment remained, such as long review times for recognition of previous qualifications, lack of language skills and certificates, and employers’ uncertainty about asylum seekers’ likelihood of staying in the country. Legislation passed in October blocks employment for asylum seekers from safe countries of origin.
Access to Basic Services: Because standard apartment or dormitory housing was insufficient for the number of asylum seekers and refugees arriving during the year, state and local officials housed large groups of them, often on cots, in temporary emergency accommodations across the country, including gymnasiums, indoor stadiums, former schools and office complexes, large tents, and container-sized shelters. State and local authorities, the armed forces, and NGOs such as the German Red Cross provided tent housing for new arrivals. Lack of standard housing options, however, led states to continue housing asylum seekers in temporary shelters such as tents, sometimes for several months. In October the Bundestag expanded the legal provision that gave preference to payment in kind over cash to provide for the needs of asylum seekers, not only during their arrival and registration but also, for those whose asylum applications were denied, pending their deportation. Observers questioned new restrictions on employment and cash benefits for refugees and asylum seekers and depicted emergency accommodations as overcrowded. In July, two asylum seekers from Syria attempted suicide at a refugee shelter in Duisburg, citing crowded living quarters with no privacy.
Under legislation passed in October, authorities no longer housed unaccompanied minors in urban centers but instead began to distribute them among the 16 federal states according to predetermined formulas, as they did other refugees and asylum seekers. NGOs criticized this move, saying that state and local authorities were not prepared to provide unaccompanied minors with the required schooling, counseling, and housing separate from adults.
NGOs criticized medical care for asylum seekers, which was free only in cases of acute illness or pain. Some local communities and private groups initiated additional health-care projects. Authorities responded to reported outbreaks of disease, such as scabies, in some housing shelters. A few states provided medical insurance cards.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement refugees who fled to countries other than their countries of origin and facilitated local integration (including naturalization), particularly of refuges in protracted situations. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes. In coordination with UNHCR, authorities granted residence permits to long-term refugees with no prospects of returning to their home countries.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided protection to individuals who did not qualify as refugees. In the first 11 months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to approximately 1,507 persons and humanitarian protection to an estimated 1,878 others.