The updated country report on Germany provides in-depth insight into the transformation and reform of the German asylum system in the aftermath of large-scale arrivals of asylum seekers. According to estimates by the Federal Ministry of Interior, 280,000 asylum seekers came to Germany in 2016, in comparison to an estimated 890,000 in 2015. In spite of this, the number of registered asylum applications increased significantly, from 476,649 in 2015 to 745,545 applications in 2016, due to the registration of applications made in the previous year. The backlog of non-registered asylum applications has been cleared in 2016.

The overall protection rate was on a very high level in 2016 (62.4% of decisions resulting in refugee status, subsidiary protection or humanitarian/national protection). However, due to a policy change in the first months of 2016, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) granted subsidiary protection instead of refugee protection in a record number of cases. This policy change affected Syrian nationals in particular, but also asylum seekers from Iraq or Eritrea.

The policy change at the BAMF coincided with a legislative change in March 2016, according to which family reunification was suspended for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection until March 2018. This change came into effect only eight months after beneficiaries of subsidiary protection had been given the same privileged position as refugees in terms of family reunification conditions. Tens of thousands of beneficiaries of subsidiary protection appealed against the authorities’ decisions in order to gain refugee status (“upgrade-appeals”), with a success rate of more than 75% in 2016.

Further elements of the German asylum system have been reformed throughout the year, inter alia:

  • Since August 2016, refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are generally obliged to take up their place of residence within the Federal State in which their asylum procedures has been conducted. (“residence rule”).
  • Accelerated procedures were introduced in March 2016 for certain groups of asylum seekers, most prominently, asylum seekers from safe countries of origin. At the end of 2016 these accelerated procedures were only carried out in two branch offices of the BAMF, so this amendment did not have a major impact in practice.
  • Criteria for “inadmissibility” of asylum applications, were clarified in August 2016. They now include “Dublin cases” (responsibility of another Member State of the Dublin regulation for the asylum procedure) as well as cases in which another EU member state has granted international protection and cases in which a secondary application does not lead to an initiation of a new asylum procedure.

The BAMF intensified its efforts to fast-track procedures with the establishment of more than 20 new “arrival centres”. In these centres various processes such as registration, identity checks, the interview and the decision-making are “streamlined”. Asylum seekers are categorised in “clusters” with the aim of conducting the asylum procedure for some groups of asylum seekers – those with an alleged low chance and those with an alleged high chance of being granted protection – within a few days.

The quality of many asylum procedures was strongly criticised in a “memorandum” published by twelve NGOs in November 2016. One important issue of the memorandum was that many decisions in asylum procedures are not taken by the BAMF staff member who has conducted the interview but by a decision-maker in a remote location (called decision-making centres). This point has since been confirmed in an official statement, according to which more than 66% of asylum decisions were taken in “decision-making centres” in 2016.

Read the full country report here.