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Asylum and migration: countries of origin or undercover investigations: concepts of escape

Asylum and migration: countries of origin or undercover investigations: concepts of escape
Asylum and migration: countries of origin or undercover investigations: concepts of escape

In the debate about asylum policy, there is talk of border controls, asylum applications and repatriations. What these and other terms relating to flight and migration mean.

Given the high number of refugees, sometimes complicated terms are being used around the topic of asylum and migration. This is what is behind it:

Asylum applications

People apply for political asylum when it has become too risky for them in their home country. Those seeking protection in Germany register at reception centers, immigration authorities and arrival centers, among others. After the record year of 2016 with almost 750,000 applications, the numbers have fallen.

Most recently, they initially rose again: in 2022, around a quarter of a million people applied for asylum in Germany, compared to over 350,000 last year. This year, by the end of May, almost 113,000 people had applied for asylum in Germany – around 103,000 of these were first-time applications. Most applicants currently come from Syria, Afghanistan and Turkey. Those who are ultimately rejected are generally required to leave Germany.

However, there are many exceptions: For example, tolerations or residence permits are issued if leaving the country is impossible for legal or factual reasons, for family reasons or in connection with employment. Since the start of the Russian war of aggression in February 2022, more than a million war refugees from Ukraine have come to Germany. Due to special EU protection regulations, they usually do not have to apply for asylum; their integration into the German labor market is being sought.

Safe countries of origin

According to Article 16a of the Basic Law, countries in which “neither political persecution nor inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment takes place” are considered safe countries of origin. This currently applies to the states of the European Union, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Ghana, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Moldova, Senegal and Serbia. The assumption: Anyone who comes from one of these states is not at risk of serious harm in their homeland. The asylum application is therefore usually rejected as obviously unfounded.

Migration agreement

According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, agreements with other countries are intended to reduce illegal immigration while at the same time enabling legal immigration. In December 2022, for example, such a migration agreement was concluded with India. The overall concept includes the expansion of economic cooperation, technology transfer, visa facilitation, qualification measures for the German labor market, job exchanges and, in return, cooperation in the return of people required to leave the country.

Cash and benefits in kind

In order to prevent asylum seekers from transferring money to their homeland, refugees are to receive benefits via a so-called payment card. A corresponding amendment to the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act came into force on May 16, 2024. It generally stipulates that asylum seekers whose application is still being examined currently receive a maximum of 460 euros per month as single people. The majority of this is for essential needs: 256 euros are intended for benefits in kind such as accommodation, clothing or food and 204 euros for personal needs as “pocket money”.

The specific design of the payment card is the responsibility of the states, according to the federal government. In the Thuringian district of Greiz, for example, where a pilot project has been running since December 2023, asylum seekers have the benefits to cover their necessary needs credited to a regionally limited payment card, and pocket money is paid out in cash. In Bavaria, on the other hand, almost all benefits are to be paid onto the payment card, and only pocket money of 50 euros is paid out in cash.

Upper limit

Since the increase in the number of refugees in 2015 and 2016, there has been repeated discussion about how many refugees German cities and municipalities can take in. The then CSU leader and Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer vehemently demanded an upper limit of 200,000 people who could be taken in per year. His successor Markus Söder (CSU) renewed the demand in the 2023 state election campaign. Most recently, the CDU, with its leader Friedrich Merz and Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer, brought such an upper limit into play.

From the point of view of the UN Refugee Agency, the term “upper limit” is being used “to stir up fears or prejudices against refugees”. The UN organisation also criticises this: it creates the impression that migration numbers can be limited regardless of the actual situation of the refugees.

border controls

EU citizens can actually move freely within the European Union (EU). Only in exceptional cases are countries allowed to deviate from the Schengen Border Code and reintroduce stationary controls. Germany claims that this poses a threat to its internal security and has been carrying out controls at the German-Austrian border since autumn 2015 with the aim of combating people smuggling and limiting irregular migration.

In 2023, stationary controls were also ordered at the borders with Poland, the Czech Republic and Switzerland. For the period of the European Football Championship in Germany, controls have been announced at all German internal Schengen borders. The EU and Schengen countries are responsible for checking cross-border traffic at the external borders. They are supported by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

Undercover investigation

Criminals continue to profit from the abolition of border controls within the EU. This is why undercover investigations have been increasingly used since the mid-1990s. Police officers are allowed to stop, search and check the personal details of passers-by or travelers without any specific suspicion. Undercover investigators are deployed at border posts, but also at airports, train stations and on long-distance trains, as well as on motorways and other major roads. The aim is to prevent cross-border crime and illegal entry into the Federal Republic. This is stated in the Federal Police Act.

Repatriation and deportation

Repatriation means a forced return to the country of origin. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, this happens “if the mandatory departure has not taken place voluntarily within the set deadline.” The UN Refugee Agency explains that, from a legal point of view, repatriation and deportation mean the same thing. In comparison to deportation, however, the term repatriation is more strongly associated with security and compliance with the law, according to the organization.

Common European Asylum System (CEAS)

Since 1999, the EU has been working to agree on uniform protection and reception standards. Asylum seekers should be granted international protection under the same conditions throughout the EU. After years of dispute, a controversial EU asylum reform was adopted in May 2024. It re-regulates the distribution of asylum seekers among the EU states with a “solidarity mechanism”. The reform also provides for rapid asylum procedures at the external borders and a much tougher approach to people from countries that are considered relatively safe.

Source: Stern

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