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Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On August 21, the law addressing deportation, known as “better implementing the obligation to leave the country,” entered into force. In an open letter, 22 NGOs, including lawyers’ and judges’ associations and child rights, welfare, and human rights organizations, called on the Bundestag to reject the law, which they criticized for its focus on ostracizing migrants and for its alleged violation of human rights. Under the law, all asylum seekers will have to remain in initial reception facilities until the end of their asylum procedure, up to 18 months. Until passage of the new law, this only applied to those from “safe countries of origin.” Rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate sufficiently in obtaining travel documents can be obliged to stay in the institutions for longer than 18 months. Authorities are now able to arrest persons who are obliged to leave the country without a court order. Persons obliged to leave the country who do not attend an embassy appointment to establish their identity can be placed in detention for 14 days. The law indicates that persons detained under “deportation detention”–including families and children–will be held in regular prisons. NGOs such as Pro Asyl, Amnesty International, and the Jesuit Refugee Service criticized this as contradicting “the clear case law of the European Court of Justice,” which calls for a strict separation of deportation detention and imprisonment. Refugees deemed to be flight risks can be taken into preventive detention. Officials who pass on information about a planned deportation are liable to prosecution. Legal scholars stress the regulations are legally problematic, as both the German constitution and the EU Return Directive pose high hurdles for deportation detention. The law also provides for the withdrawal of all social benefits from those recognized as asylum seekers in other EU states after two weeks. Of the 16 federal states, 11 announced they would not implement the law.

Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants continued, as did attacks on government-provided asylum homes. On April 14, a video appeared online showing four security guards beating an asylum seeker in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt. Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Ministry suspended the four security guards and ordered an investigation of the incident. The investigation was ongoing as of November.

In May the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) criticized the country’s deportation practices for rejected asylum seekers, including the practice of not informing detainees of their exact deportation date. In its report the CPT also called on the country’s government to refrain when deporting migrants from “disproportionate and inappropriate” use of force, such as methods that cause suffocation or severe pain. On a deportation flight in August 2018 the CPT’s experts had witnessed a police officer pressing his arm against a deportee’s neck, which restricted his ability to breathe. Another police officer repeatedly squeezed the genitals of the same man, who was tied with tape. The CPT also specifically condemned methods in the Eichstaett, Bavaria, detention center, where security guards were not specially trained and detainees lived in prison-like conditions that included limited access to multipurpose rooms, lack of access to their own clothing, and no ability to speak directly to a doctor. In response, the Federal Ministry of Justice rejected accusations that a direct visit to the doctor was not possible. It further asserted detainees usually did not have enough clothing to change regularly and needed to supplement this with clothing from the detention center when their own clothing was being washed.

Refoulement: In 2018 the government lifted its deportation ban for Afghanistan, and approximately 200 refugees were deported to that country during the first six months of the year. Previous federal policy permitted deportations only of convicted criminals and those deemed a security risk. NGOs including Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country faced the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017, as well as an additional 305,943 who requested asylum in 2018 and during the first six months of the year. The heavy influx of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants taxed the country’s infrastructure and resources.

The NGO Pro Asyl criticized the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries the government identified as “safe” (see below) and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “fast track procedure.” The “fast track procedure” enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin criticized a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.

In April 2018 BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch amid allegations that the official improperly approved up to 2,000 asylum applications. In April, however, a BAMF review concluded that just 50 Bremen asylum decisions (0.9 percent) should be subject to legal review–a proportion below the national average of 1.2 percent.

A Hamburg lawyer and former Green party state parliamentarian confirmed in February that he was representing four German families with seven children aged two to 14 who were calling on the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs for repatriation from Syria and Iraq, where they had joined the Islamic State. In April the government allowed one of the mothers to return from Iraq to Germany with her three children; the mother was promptly arrested. In November an appeals court in Berlin ruled the German government must repatriate from Syria the German wife and three children of an Islamic State member. Their lawyer said he hoped the decision would set a precedent for the 20 other German mothers and 40 children he represented.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through “safe countries of transit,” which include the EU member states, and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. “Safe countries of origin” also include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, and Serbia. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria. The NGO Pro Asyl pointed out that refugees who under the Dublin III regulation fell into another EU state’s responsibility but could not be returned to that country often remained in a legal gray zone. They were not allowed to work or participate in integration measures, including German language classes.

Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, approximately 200,000 refugees were unemployed as of July. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.

The law excludes some asylum seekers from access to certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and employment opportunities. This applies to asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation. The government did not permit asylum seekers and persons with a protected status from safe countries of origin to work if they applied for asylum after 2015.

Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to house asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.

Several states provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. The welfare organization Diakonie criticized the medical insurance card system, which only enabled asylum seekers to obtain emergency treatment. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.

The government assisted asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with the safe and voluntary return to their countries. In the first half of the year, authorities provided financial assistance of 300 to 500 euros ($330 to $550) to 6,786 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification.

The government also offered a return bonus of 800 to 1,200 euros ($880 to $1,320) per person to asylum seekers whose applications were pending but who were unlikely to have their applications approved. Most of the applicants who received this bonus came from Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia, and Iraq.

Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection–subsidiary and humanitarian–for individuals who do not qualify as refugees. In the first six months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 11,855 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 3,872 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for a health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years, a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In a June report, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) assessed the country as “globally unsatisfactory” and accused the Bundestag of not implementing its recommendations on the prevention of bribery of members of parliament. Of the eight recommendations GRECO made in 2014, the government had only implemented three of them satisfactorily. Among other things, GRECO faulted the Bundestag for its unclear rules with regard to dealings with lobbyists and for overly lax reporting obligations of parliamentarians, including existing or potential conflicts of interest.

Research by multiple media outlets in April examined Russia’s attempts to influence German politics, in particular through the AfD. They uncovered Russian documents from 2017 recommending that Russia provide concrete assistance to AfD candidate Markus Frohnmaier, as his victory would provide Russia with “its own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag.” Frohnmaier entered the Bundestag in 2017 and has taken consistently pro-Russia positions.

In March, Transparency Germany, Transparency International’s national chapter, filed a criminal complaint against Bundestag member Karin Strenz and former Bundestag member Eduard Lintner over an alleged bribery case orchestrated by the Azerbaijani government. Beginning in the early 2000s, the Azerbaijanis operated a money laundering scheme to, among other things, bribe politicians at the Council of Europe to soften human rights resolutions and election observation reports. Following an investigation, the Council of Europe banned both Strenz and Lintner for life from the Council of Europe in June 2018. In January the Bundestag presidium announced Strenz had violated the Bundestag’s rules of conduct.

Financial Disclosure: Members of state and federal parliaments are subject to financial disclosure laws that require them to publish their earnings from outside employment. Sanctions for noncompliance range from an administrative fine to as much as half of a parliamentarian’s annual salary. Appointed officials are subject to the public disclosure rules for civil servants, who must disclose outside activities and earnings. If the remuneration exceeds certain limits, which vary by grade, the employee must transfer the excess to the employing agency. Under the federal disciplinary law, sanctions for noncomplying officials include financial penalties, reprimand, or dismissal. In the corruption case involving Strenz, the Bundestag fined her more than 19,000 euros ($20,900) in March for the late disclosure of her payments from a company that passed along the money from Azerbaijan.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

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