Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On January 28, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court sentenced neo-Nazi Stephan Ernst to life in prison for the 2019 murder of local Hesse politician Walter Luebcke but acquitted codefendant Markus Hartmann on an accessory to murder charge. The crime was widely viewed as a politically motivated killing of a known prorefugee state official, and prosecutors believed Ernst committed the crime out of ethnonationalist and racist motivations. Frankfurt prosecutors continued to investigate multiple persons for having threatened Luebcke on the internet after his 2015 prorefugee remarks. They passed several of the remaining investigations to prosecutors across the country, depending on the residence of the accused. A Hesse state parliament investigation into why Hesse’s domestic security service failed to identify Stephan Ernst as a danger to society was ongoing as of September.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, but there were a few reports that government officials employed them. According to some human rights groups, authorities did not effectively investigate allegations of mistreatment by police and failed to establish an independent mechanism to investigate such allegations.
In June a court sentenced a Muelheim police officer to nine months’ probation for inflicting bodily injury while on duty. In 2019, when responding to a domestic violence call, the officer handcuffed a naturalized citizen with Kosovar roots and beat him in the face. The officer’s partner helped cover up the assault and was sentenced to seven months’ probation.
On September 17, a Cologne court found a police officer guilty of using excessive force against a fleeing suspect and sentenced him to eight months’ probation. The officer in 2019 shot an unarmed man aged 19, Alexander Dellis, when he fled arrest; Dellis later filed a complaint for excessive use of force. The court ruled that the officer had not adequately warned the suspect.
Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.
Laws at the state level give police the power to take preventive action against an “impending danger.” Critics argued that this provision expands police surveillance power, which had been reserved for the country’s intelligence services. As of September a case challenging the law in Bavaria was pending at the Federal Constitutional Court, as was a separate case at the Saxony Constitutional Court regarding that state’s law.
While several states required police to wear identity badges, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Amnesty International Germany criticized the lack of a nationwide requirement to do so, noting that six states had no such requirement.
In February a man was acquitted for a third time of charges of resisting police officers and causing bodily harm during a public demonstration in Cologne. The court upheld a charge of insulting a police officer but imposed no penalty, finding fault instead with the officers themselves. The judge in the man’s second trial in 2019 had dismissed the charges as unfounded and apologized to the defendant. Two police officers were placed under investigation in 2019, and in February the case against them was dropped in exchange for fines. The man thereafter sued the state of North-Rhine Westphalia for 15,000 euros ($17,300) in compensation, which the state agreed to pay in July.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The trial shall be fair, public, and held without undue delay. The law requires defendants be present at their trials. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney of their choice, and the government provides an attorney at public expense if defendants demonstrate financial need, as stated above. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The government provides an interpreter to any defendant who cannot understand or speak German and does so free of charge if the defendant demonstrates financial need or is acquitted. Defendants have access to all court-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants may question the prosecution’s witnesses and may introduce their own witnesses and evidence in support of their case. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal.
The law does not allow courts to punish a person twice for the same crime. A court may, however, order an offender convicted of rape, homicide, or manslaughter to spend additional time in “subsequent preventive detention” after completing a sentence. The court can only order preventive detention if it determines that the offender suffers from a mental disorder or represents a continuing serious danger to the public. The law permits the imposition of such detention for an indefinite period, subject to periodic review.
Because the law does not regard such detention as punishment, authorities are legally required to keep those in preventive detention in separate buildings or in special prison sections with better conditions than those of the general prisons. Authorities must also provide detainees with a range of social and psychological therapy programs. According to the Federal Statistics Office, 589 offenders were held under preventive detention at the end of March 2020, the most recent date for which figures were available.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Citizens may file complaints regarding abuses of their human rights with petition committees and commissioners for citizens’ affairs. Citizens usually referred to these points of contact as “ombudsmen.” Additionally, an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters provides court access for lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights abuse. Persons who exhaust domestic legal remedies may appeal cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The government has laws and mechanisms in place for, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported it made significant progress on, resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. Since the end of World War II through 2020, according to the Federal Ministry of Finance, the government paid approximately 79 billion euros ($90.8 billion) in Holocaust restitution and compensation, which included an additional 1.04 billion euros ($1.19 billion) in hardship payments made to poorer Holocaust survivors severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The country has also supported numerous public and private international reparation and social welfare initiatives to benefit Holocaust survivors and their families.
After World War II, the government adopted legislation to resolve compensation claims stemming from Nazi atrocities and Holocaust-era property confiscation. In 1952 the government designated the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Claims Conference) as its principal partner in handling restitution and compensation claims made by Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.
Before German reunification in 1990, in accordance with the Federal Restitution Law, West German authorities provided property restitution and compensation payments for properties and businesses that were confiscated or transferred during the Holocaust era. The Claims Conference assumed ownership of and auctioned off heirless properties, using the proceeds to fund the organization’s efforts to support Holocaust survivors and fund Holocaust education. For confiscated Jewish property located in what was formerly East Germany, the Claims Conference filed additional claims under a law enacted after reunification. Since 1990 authorities have approved and granted restitution in 4,500 cases and provided compensation in approximately 12,000 cases. There were approximately 5,000 cases involving fixed assets remaining to be processed at the Federal Office for Central Services and Unsettled Property Issues, including land, real estate, and company shares.
Regular negotiations between the Claims Conference and the country’s federal government expanded existing programs and introduced additional ones. In the September 2020 negotiations, the government agreed to increase the total funding level during the year by 30.5 million euros ($35.1 million) for home-care services for frail and aging Holocaust survivors. In October the federal government agreed to provide monthly 375-euro ($431) pensions to an estimated 6,500 Holocaust survivors not previously receiving them, as well as symbolic one-time payments of 2,500 euros ($2,875) to child survivors born in 1928 or later. Additionally, survivors who received previous one-time payments under a hardship fund were scheduled to receive additional payments of 1,200 euros ($1,400) during the year.
In 2015 the federal government established the German Lost Art Foundation (DZK) to promote provenance research. The DZK maintained an online “Lost Art” database and helped victims and their heirs to find the right institutions and contacts. The database documented objects suspected or proven to be confiscated by the Nazis. In May the DZK announced it would provide $2.8 million in funding to 31 projects for research on cultural assets confiscated under the Nazis.
On April 29, the Duesseldorf City Council, following the recommendation of the country’s national commission on Nazi looted art, unanimously voted to return the 1913 Franz Marc painting Foxes to the heirs of Kurt Grawi. Grawi had used the sale of the painting to finance his escape from Nazi Germany and emigration to Chile in 1939. As of September the painting had not been returned to Grawi’s heirs.
The Bavarian State Painting Collections, owned by the State of Bavaria, has not referred the case of the Pablo Picasso painting Portrait of Madame Soler to the country’s national commission on looted art, contrary to usual practice when disputes concerning the provenance of artworks arise. The work had been sold by Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in 1934 or 1935; his heirs had first asked Bavaria in 2010 to refer the case to the commission, maintaining he sold the work under duress. In June the commission’s chair Hans-Juergen Papier dismissed the state’s view that the claim is irrelevant, saying it is up to the commission to evaluate such cases.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were assertions the government failed in some cases to respect these prohibitions.
The federal and state offices for the protection of the constitution (OPCs) continued to monitor political groups deemed to be potentially undermining the constitution. These include left-wing extremist groups inside the Left party and right-wing extremist groups inside the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, both of which have seats in the Bundestag, as well as the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD). Monitoring requires the approval of state or federal interior ministries and is subject to review by state or federal parliamentary intelligence committees.
All OPC activities may be contested in court, including the Federal Constitutional Court. Following a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling, the government stated the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (FOPC) could no longer monitor Bundestag members.
The Bavaria OPC during the year monitored the NPD; Der Fluegel (“The Wing,” a loose network of far-right extremist AfD party members within the AfD); the AfD youth organization Junge Alternative (“Young Alternative”); as well as the Der Dritte Weg (“The Third Way”), an extremist party that was mainly active in opposing public COVID-19 measures.
The Baden-Wuerttemberg OPC monitored Querdenken 711 (“Lateral Thinking 711”), a movement directed against state and federal COVID-19 restrictions, due to its extremist views. The state’s anti-Semitism commissioner repeatedly warned of Querdenken 711’s anti-Semitic rhetoric and views.
On January 26, the Saxony-Anhalt OPC announced it would monitor the Saxony-Anhalt chapter of the AfD due to the party’s attacks on human dignity, its rejection of constitutional principles, and its hostility to democracy. In response the AfD moved for an injunction. On April 24, Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Ministry determined the state’s OPC would refrain from monitoring the party until a verdict had been reached. As of August proceedings were ongoing.
In early March media reported that the FOPC had decided to surveil the AfD national party organization but not AfD elected officials or candidates. The FOPC reportedly took this step in light of AfD infringements upon human dignity and democratic principles and the influence of “The Wing,” which supposedly was officially dissolved in 2019, but members of the group continued to convene. Anticipating this, the AfD filed suit in January in the Cologne Administrative Court to block FOPC surveillance. Shortly after the March media reports, the court issued an injunction preventing the FOPC from commenting on whether it had decided to surveil the AfD until the court had ruled on the January suit. In August the court indicated it would not issue a ruling until early 2022, to avoid influencing voters’ decisions in the September 26 elections.
On May 12, the Thuringia OPC upgraded its classification of the Thuringian chapter of the AfD from a suspected case to a proven extremist case. According to the OPC, there are clear “efforts against the free democratic basic order” within the Thuringian AfD chapter.
In June 2020 the Brandenburg OPC announced it would monitor the state chapter of the AfD as a suspected case of right-wing extremism. The Brandenburg state chapter of the AfD challenged the decision before the State Constitutional Court, which ruled against the AfD on March 19.
In June the Bavarian government amended its police powers law to give police the power to screen visitors at major events using “reliability tests” conducted with visitors’ personal data obtained from “public and nonpublic entities.” The law entered into force July 31 and was immediately challenged by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD), Greens, and Free Democratic Party before the Bavarian Constitutional Court. As of October the case was still pending (for the “NSU 2.0” case, see section 3, Political Parties and Participation).
In August the Hamburg Administrative Court ruled that Hamburg’s OPC may no longer state that two AfD state parliament staffers were identitarians, a right-wing extremist movement. The AfD caucus in the state parliament had sued the OPC for mentioning the staffers’ supposed connection in its 2020 public report. The court stated that, although the staffers had attended two identitarian events, such attendance alone was not proof of their membership in the group. Under the ruling, the Hamburg OPC must delete the allegation from its public 2020 report and issue a public correction. The OPC pledged to continue monitoring The Wing’s activities in Hamburg.
Human Rights Watch reported that on June 10, the parliament had passed amendments to a law that allows OPCs to use spyware and bypass encryption. Human Rights Watch raised strong privacy concerns regarding the change, noting that the law allows interception of communications by “persons against whom no suspicion of a crime has yet been established and therefore no criminal procedure can yet be ordered.” The government argued the provisions were needed to keep up with technological changes.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned several individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism). An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.
Freedom of Expression: On April 1, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed into law the Act on Combating Right-Wing Extremism and Hate Crimes. The act requires social networks not only to assess and potentially restrict illegal content, but also to report online hate crimes, including anti-Semitic hate speech, to the Federal Criminal Police. Online threats will now be treated the same as in-person threats, and threats of violence other than murder, such as of rape or vandalism, both online and in person, will also be treated the same as murder threats under the law.
On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, hair, or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of the public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct. The law specifies that if these are of a religious nature, they can only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affect trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of their official duties.” Religious organizations expressed concern, however, that the law could serve as justification to restrict the wearing of religious head and face coverings or other religious symbols and attire by civil servants.
Some states did not permit full-face coverings in public schools.
In August 2020 the Federal Labor Court rejected an appeal by the federal state of Berlin against a regional labor court’s 2018 judgment that a general ban on teachers wearing religious symbols in schools was discriminatory. Berlin appealed the case to the Federal Constitutional Court in June.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.
Violence and Harassment: In June, 3,000 persons demonstrated in Duesseldorf against the new law on public assembly proposed by the NRW state government. Police allegedly assaulted a media representative and surrounded and detained 38 minors during the 10-hour event. During his testimony before the state parliament on the incident, NRW interior minister Herbert Reul regretted police action against the journalist and said it had been a mistake. NRW minister president Armin Laschet later met with the journalist and stated freedom of the press would always be guaranteed. Authorities filed 39 charges were against protesters, including nine counts of bodily harm and six of disturbing the peace.
On September 10, Munich police arrested photojournalist Michael Trammer of the newspaper taz for criminal trespass while he was covering a demonstration by environmentalists against an auto show. Trammer was arrested when police stormed the building and detained him in the process of arresting demonstrators even though he claimed he clearly identified himself as a member of the press. Police released Trammer later that day but ordered him not to enter the auto show’s facilities and declared he could be detained again if authorities suspected he might violate the law. Trammer’s newspaper contacted police, and they dropped the two orders, although Trammer still faced the trespass charge.
On April 3, regional broadcaster SWR was forced to abort a live report from a demonstration by the group Querdenker 711 in Stuttgart when demonstrators threw “hard objects” at the camera team. Police could not identify the perpetrators. The German Union of Journalists criticized police for not protecting the journalists. Journalists were also attacked at a March 23 Querdenker 711 demonstration in Kassel.
On April 26, a camera team in the government district of Berlin was harassed by five persons, disrupting a live broadcast on COVID-19 immunization policies. Police arrested four suspects on charges of attempted coercion. A federal government spokesperson condemned the attack and said journalists must be able to practice their profession without fear or interference.
Nongovernmental Impact: On July 7, four individuals assaulted Turkish journalist Erk Acacer, a columnist for the Turkish daily BirGun, outside his residence in Berlin. Acacer told Deutsche Welle television he believed the attack was related to a Turkish businessman, whom Acacer alleged was involved in prostitution, drugs, and corruption. Acacer said he received new threats in late July; police were investigating the incidents.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
Groups seeking to hold open-air public rallies and marches must notify authorities 48 hours before announcing them publicly. State and local officials may ban or disperse open-air rallies or marches when public safety concerns arise or when the applicant is from a prohibited organization, mainly right-wing extremist groups. Authorities allowed nonprohibited right-wing extremist or neo-Nazi groups to hold public rallies or marches when they did so in accordance with the law.
To limit the COVID-19 outbreak, state governments required demonstrators to observe social distancing rules to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Police in Berlin and other cities broke up several demonstrations throughout the year when they deemed protesters violated these rules.
It is illegal to block officially registered demonstrations. Many anti-Nazi activists refused to accept such restrictions and attempted to block neo-Nazi demonstrations or to hold counterdemonstrations, sometimes resulting in clashes between police and anti-Nazi demonstrators. For example, on August 7, police and counterdemonstrators clashed in Weimar during a right-wing demonstration. Police arrested several counterdemonstrators.
Police detained known or suspected activists when they believed such individuals intended to participate in illegal or unauthorized demonstrations. The length of detention varied from state to state.
Media reports and videos showed what protesters said was excessive use of force by police at demonstrations August 1 and 29 in Berlin. As of September the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation was investigating one police officer for using excessive force against a protester at the August 29 demonstration (see also section 2.a., Violence and Harassment – June 3 demonstration in Duesseldorf).
Freedom of Association
The government restricted freedom of association in some instances. The law permits authorities to prohibit organizations whose activities the Constitutional Court or federal or state governments determine to be opposed to the constitutional democratic order or otherwise illegal. While only the Federal Constitutional Court may prohibit political parties on these grounds, both federal and state governments may prohibit or restrict other organizations, including groups that authorities classify as extremist or criminal in nature. Organizations have the right to appeal such prohibitions or restrictions.
The federal and state OPCs monitored several hundred organizations. Monitoring consisted of collecting information from public sources, written materials, and firsthand accounts, but it also included intrusive methods, such as the use of undercover agents who were subject to legal oversight. The federal and state OPCs published lists of monitored organizations, including left- and right-wing political parties. The OPC at the federal as well as the state level also monitored the Islamic Center Hamburg, which the Hamburg OPC stated was a major Iranian regime asset in Europe. Although the law stipulates surveillance must not interfere with an organization’s legitimate activities, representatives of some monitored groups, such as Scientologists, complained that the publication of the organizations’ names contributed to prejudice against them.
The FOPC monitored approximately 20,000 so-called Reichsbuerger (citizens of the empire) and Selbstverwalter (sovereign citizens). These individuals denied the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and rejected government authority. The FOPC considered the groups to represent a potential threat due to their affinity for weapons and their contempt for national authorities. From 2016 through the end of 2020, 880 members of these groups had their firearms licenses revoked, while 530 members were still known holders of firearms licenses. In 2020 members of Reichsbuerger and Selbstverwalter groups committed 599 extremist politically motivated crimes; authorities categorized 125 of them as violent. The Ministry of the Interior banned one Reichsbuerger group in 2020 and conducted raids against others during the year.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: Authorities issued three types of travel documents to stateless individuals for movement within the country and inside the European Union: to those with refugee status, to those with asylum status, and to foreigners without travel documents. Stateless individuals received a “travel document for the stateless.” Those with recognized refugee and asylum status received a “travel document for refugees.” Foreigners from non-EU countries received a “travel document for foreigners” if they did not have a passport or identity document and could not obtain a passport from their country of origin.
A federal law requires refugees with recognized asylum status who received social benefits to live within the state that handled their asylum request for a period of three years, and several states implemented the residence rule. States themselves can add other residence restrictions, such as assigning a refugee to a specific city. Local authorities who supported the rule stated that it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous municipalities and state governments imposed a variety of strict temporary restrictions on freedom of movement to prevent the spread of the virus, including stay-at-home requirements throughout the country and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s entry ban on visitors from out of state that expired in June. Citizens challenged many of these restrictions in court, with varying results. In November 2020 the federal government instituted a nationwide ban on overnight accommodations in areas with high COVID-19 infection rates (above 100 per 100,000) to restrict in-country travel. The law also required residents of areas with very high infection rates (above 200 per 100,000) to stay within nine miles of the locality in which they live. All movement restrictions expired July 1.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
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 continued to face the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) reported 122,170 asylum requests in 2020 and 111,788 requests in the first eight months of the year (see also section 6, Displaced Children).
In an August 23 decision, the Hesse Higher Administrative Court (VGH) ruled conscientious objectors from Syria do not automatically qualify as asylum seekers. A Syrian national, age 26, had appealed the rejection of his application for asylum in 2015. The VGH’s verdict was based on the premise that the plaintiff would most likely not face abuse for avoiding the draft in Syria but would simply be conscripted upon his return. The decision reversed previous legal practice in Hesse and followed decisions from courts in the states of Saxony-Anhalt and NRW. Syrians accounted for 33 percent (40,570 in total) of all asylum applicants in the country in 2020.
The NGO Pro Asyl continued to criticize 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 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 “direct procedure.” The direct 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 was critical of 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 2018 BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch, Ulrike Bremermann, amid allegations she improperly approved up to 1,200 asylum applications. In 2019, however, a BAMF review concluded that just 145 of 18,000 positively approved Bremen asylum decisions since 2006 that were reviewed by a special commission (0.81 percent) should be subject to legal review, a proportion below the national average of 1.2 percent. In November 2020 the Bremen Regional Court rejected 100 of the 121 charges against Bremermann and two private lawyers, including all charges related to violations of asylum and residence laws. On April 20, the court decided to take no further action on the case in exchange for a payment of a fine by Bremermann, considering the minor nature of the remaining charges.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation that permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through “safe countries of transit,” which include EU member states, and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. “Safe countries of origin” also include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Senegal, and Serbia. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria.
Refoulement: The government reported that 137 refugees were deported to Afghanistan in 2020, the latest year for which official statistics are available; the NGO Pro Asyl estimated that 304 refugees were deported to Afghanistan during the first seven months of the year. NGOs including Pro Asyl and Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement and complained that grounds and procedures for deportation varied widely between states. On August 11, the Federal Ministry of the Interior announced a temporary ban on deportations to Afghanistan due to the security situation there.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants continued, as did attacks on government-provided asylum homes. On July 22, four unknown assailants attacked and wounded two asylum seekers from Kenya in Prenzlau, Brandenburg. As of November police continued to investigate.
In November 2020 a paramedic punched in the face a restrained and defenseless Syrian refugee at a Kassel refugee shelter; the incident did not become public until police released video surveillance of it in March. The video showed two police officers at the scene not interfering or trying to stop the assault. The original November police report only mentioned disorderly conduct by the refugee, but not the assault by the paramedic. Authorities filed charges against the paramedic and the police officers. The paramedic’s employer also dismissed him from his job.
On February 4, a Saxony-Anhalt court issued a warning and suspended sentence for battery to a private security guard who was captured on video in 2019 beating an asylum seeker at a government reception center for asylum seekers in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt. Two other guards at the center were acquitted of similar charges.
Freedom of Movement: Under a 2019 law addressing deportation, all asylum seekers must remain in initial reception facilities until the end of their asylum procedure, up to 18 months. 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 can arrest without a court order those persons who are obliged to leave the country. 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 – would be held in regular prisons. Refugees deemed to be flight risks can be taken into preventive detention. Officials who pass on information regarding a planned deportation are liable to prosecution. Legal scholars stressed the regulations were legally problematic because both the constitution and the EU Return Directive pose high hurdles for deportation detention. The law also provides for the withdrawal after two weeks of all social benefits from those recognized as asylum seekers in other EU states.
Authorities issued 10,800 expulsion orders in 2020, only slightly fewer than the 11,081 expelled in 2019. Persons holding citizenship of Albania (1,006), Georgia (995), Serbia (754) and Moldavia (654) were subject to the highest number of expulsions. In September, Bundestag member Ulla Jelpke (Left party) called for an abolition of the practice, arguing that some of the expellees had been living in the country for decades.
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, 234,756 refugees were unemployed as of August. 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 rejected asylum seekers or persons with temporary protected status who are themselves responsible for obstacles to deportation to work, nor asylum seekers from safe countries of origin if they applied for asylum after 2015.
Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to provide housing for 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. 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 2020 authorities provided financial assistance of 300 to 500 euros ($345 to $575) to 5,706 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification. The largest group of program applicants came from 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 eight months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 14,565 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, 3,393 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 an existing 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.
UNHCR reported 26,675 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2020. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria.
Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.