The ecumenical network Asylum in Churches in Germany reported that on January 13, 2020, German immigration authorities have taken a young Afghan man out of “Church asylum” and transferred him to Denmark under the Dublin III Regulation, where he may face deportation to Afghanistan.

The man’s parents and minor brother also received Church Asylum until November 2019 and are now in an asylum procedure in Germany. By providing sanctuary the church hoped to prevent the family’s transfer to Denmark and a subsequent chain deportation to Afghanistan. With his transfer, the family was separated. In North-Rhine Westphalia, the regional government guaranteed not to intervene in cases of church asylum as a matter of principle since 1995. The instance is the first time public authorities forcefully intervened in such a sanctuary in four years.

In Germany, Church asylum is the temporary sanctuary offered by religious institutions to people facing deportations to protect them from undue hardship. Most cases concern the transfers to another European member state under the Dublin III Regulation, where people face homelessness, inadequate support, inhumane and degrading treatment and deportations to their country of origin. There are currently 425 cases of church asylum in Germany, providing sanctuary to 678 persons including 147 children; 382 of the cases are Dublin transfers.

2019 already saw a stark decline in Church Asylum cases. By August 2019 the Germany Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) accepted only 5 out of 304 cases, meaning that only 1,6% of the parishes requests were accepted, a further decrease from 2018, when 14% (77 out of 570) were accepted. In 2016, the acceptance rate was as high as 80%.

The pastor of the church hosting the young man, Manuel Linke, is stunned by the decision of the German immigration authority to break with the accepted form of sanctuary for asylum seekers. His community is convinced that it is correct and legitimate to protect asylum seekers from deportations, when facing hardship.

Last week, in a show of solidarity from civil society, dozens of German municipalities asserted their willingness to welcome asylum seekers and demanded action from the German government to take in more people rescued in the Mediterranean or stranded in Greece, Italy, or Libya.

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Photo: (CC) Marc Nicholas, October 2007, Germany

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.