The coalition agreement presented by the incoming German government marks a significant change in Germany’s asylum and integration policies. While the agreement outlines the removal of punitive measures, prioritised access to residency, EU coordinated search and rescue and pathways to protection in Germany, it also seeks to increase deportations and cooperation with third countries on migration. ECRE member Pro Asyl finds important improvements as well as “serious gaps”.

The incoming German government – under chancellor Olaf Scholz, representing the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the Liberal Free Democrats (FDP) – has presented a coalition agreement introducing a broad set of changes to asylum and integration policies. The plans include measures to create opportunities for people with tolerated status to receive the right to stay in Germany, in particular young people and people or families who have made efforts to be part of German society. People in situations of ‘chain toleration’ will now have access to a one-year residence permit after living in Germany for five years. People with tolerated status who are in formal training should also receive a residence permit. The restrictions on family reunification rights for people with subsidiary protection will be removed, allowing them the same access to family reunion as people with Refugee Convention status. Unaccompanied children in Germany can be reunited with their parents and their siblings. According to Pro Asyl: “For many people in Germany, concrete improvements can now be made because family reunification is to be improved, work bans are to be abolished and regulations on the right to stay are to be simplified”. The coalition further commits to providing integration courses immediately upon arrival and to making funding available, including for organisations run by migrants and vocational language courses to support integration into the labour market.

The agreement stresses that asylum procedures must be fair, speedy and provide legal certainty. For this purpose, nationwide independent legal aid will be provided and vulnerable groups will be identified from the outset and receive special support. The concept of AnkER centres introduced by the previous government will no longer be pursued. It also introduces a more systematic approach to deportations that includes providing more federal support to the Länder. The government emphasise a preference for voluntary departures and a commitment to not place children and young people in detention pending deportation. The competent supreme federal authority should be able to enact a temporary national ban on deportation for individual countries of origin.

Further, the agreement commits to fundamental reform of the European asylum system with the goal of fair distribution of responsibility for reception between member states. The coalition signals its intent to make progress on this with a coalition of willing member states. It calls for state-coordinated and EU-supported search and rescue capacity and for Frontex to be in charge of border management which is effective, compliant with rule of law, transparent and subject to parliamentary control. “What remains open is what the future government’s position will be on border procedures with restrictions on freedom. No word on reforming the Return Directive, the broader facilitation of detention pending deportation or on lowering standards in the concept of safe third countries” comments Pro Asyl.

The announcement that the administration plans to examine whether determination of protection status in third countries may, in exceptional cases, be in compliance with the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights “raises eyebrows” at Pro Asyl. The organisation notes the risk of outsourcing refugee protection and points out that the agreement also commits ensuring merit-based assessment of asylum applications of people arriving in the EU.

The coalition agreement announces that resettlement should be strengthened in line with needs reported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). A humanitarian admission programme will be established which should be used for Afghans. It also outlines an ambition to conclude new practical and partnership-based agreements with major countries of origin in compliance with human rights standards. For this purpose, a Special Representative should be appointed. Decisions related to development funding should not be made conditional on the conclusion of possible cooperation agreements.

The agreement is still subject to approval by the three parties and the new government should formally take office next week.

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Photo: (CC) Tim Reckmann, February 2016

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