On 7 June 2019, the German Parliament adopted several controversial amendments which regulate immigration and asylum-related issues. The amendments are now awaiting approval from the second chamber, the Bundesrat.

One of the amendments is the “Orderly Return Law” (Geordnete-Rückkehr-Gesetz), the second round of legal measures to facilitate deportations of persons obliged to leave the country, following a law passed in 2017. It has drawn extensive criticism from several civil society organisations, including PRO ASYL. The bill facilitates the use of detention by expanding the grounds for using detention e.g. when asylum seekers  do not cooperate for the purpose of their deportation or in cases in which there is no evidence of a risk of absconding. Similarly, the authorities responsible for carrying out deportations are granted the right to access apartments without a judicial order in certain circumstances. In violation of the EU Return Directive, the bill also provides that, until 2022, people awaiting deportation may be placed in regular prisons as long as people affected will be held in premises separate from convicted criminals.

Moreover, the length of stay in initial reception centres has been increased from 6 to 18 months as a general rule and to more than 18 months in certain circumstances (e.g. persons from safe countries of origin or persons who do not provide correct information on their identity). Minors and families still fall under the previous maximum period of 6 months. According to Günter Burkhardt, Head of PRO ASYL, the deliberate isolation of people is a catastrophe for integration policies.

Also, the amendments transpose a current pilot project into law, whereby the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF) also provides counselling and legal assistance to asylum seekers. ECRE has already expressed concerns over the quality of the new counselling arrangements with regard to its independence and potential conflict of interests.

The syndicate of social-democratic jurists notes that the foreseen expansion of detention and the cuts of social benefits compromise constitutional values. “It is a dark day for our democracy”, said a German MP from the Greens, who have requested a conciliation committee on the legislation in the Bundesrat.

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Photo: (CC) Tim Reckmann, February 2019

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