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1.6.2015 | Von:
Jan Schneider
Marcus Engler


In recent years, asylum policy and refugee protection have been the subject of constant debate in German domestic politics.[1] The number of asylum claims has been on the rise since 2009, and doubled between 2012 and 2014 alone. This development has triggered a fierce political debate as well as legislative activity.
Ein Teilnehmer einer bundesweiten Demonstration für die Interessen von Flüchtlingen hält am 28.02.2015 auf dem Theaterplatz in Dresden (Sachsen) eine Weltkugel mit der Aufschrift "Solidarität" hochFebruary 2015, Dresden: A participant of a nation-wide event protesting the treatment of refugees holds up a globe with the message "Solidarity". (© picture-alliance/dpa)

On the one hand, it became obvious that neither federal authorities nor the Länder (federal states) and municipalities were adequately prepared to react to the growing influx of asylum seekers, particularly with regard to providing sufficient capacities for accommodation. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), which is responsible for processing asylum applications, had to deal with an increasing backlog. On the other hand, asylum seekers became subject to suspicions of "asylum abuse," and a number of political measures were adopted to tighten German asylum policy, which is rather generous compared to other countries.[2] Among other things, these restrictions reflected concerns that liberal asylum policies serve as a pull factor, motivating refugees resident in other European countries to move onward to Germany.

This reveals the transnational dimension of refugee policy: asylum law, is now nearly completely Europeanized and laid down in detailed minimum standards, and is subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (EJC) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The scope to adopt restrictive measures at the national level is therefore limited. The Dublin Regulation determines the EU Member State responsible for examining an asylum application. At the same time, the European Union holds collective responsibility for its external borders – and therefore also for refugee tragedies in the Mediterranean, and for the protection of civil war refugees from Syria. An analysis of German asylum law and policy must therefore take into account the common European policy of refugee protection. It has to focus on two aspects: on the one hand, the empirically observable refugee flows, and, on the other hand, the reaction of individual states or the international community towards this form of migration. In view of the latter, Germany (and to an even greater extent the EU) will have to face multiple challenges in the coming years.


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People in need of protection – the global dimension

At the end of 2013, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 51.2 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide who had to flee their place of residence due to persecution, violence or human rights violations. This is the highest number ever recorded since the beginning of such statistics in 1989. Among them were 16.7 million registered recognized refugees, 33.3 million internally displaced persons, and 1.2 million asylum seekers (pending applications). 86 percent of all refugees were hosted by developing countries. In 2013, 98,400 refugees were received by 21 countries in the framework of resettlement programs. 6.3 million refugees had already spent long periods living in harsh conditions (in so-called protracted situations) in refugee camps, or on their own in big cities.*

* "Protracted Situations" are defined as situations in which 25,000 or more refugees of the same nationality have sought asylum in another country for at least five consecutive years (UNHCR 2014b, p.6).
As a starting point, this policy brief provides an overview on international asylum law, which constitutes the framework for national provisions for refugee protection, followed by a summary of forms of humanitarian protection. Second, the paper discusses asylum law, refugee policy and humanitarian migration in the Federal Republic of Germany, and the efforts made within the EU to harmonize the policy field of refuge and asylum. Finally, the dossier addresses current developments in Germany, and ends with a preview of future European challenges with regard to refugee protection.

This text is part of the policy brief German Asylum Policy and EU Refugee Protection: The Prospects of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).


Etymological origin: Greek term "ásylon": a place where a persecuted person may not be seized and may find refuge.
Pertinent statements were made in the context of the political debate on adding the Western Balkan countries to the list of safe third countries, see for example "De Maizière warnt vor Asylmissbrauch" ["De Maizière Warns of Asylum Abuse"], FAZ of 8 February 2014; protocol of the 15th session of the Bundestag Committee on Internal Affairs of 23 July 2014, BT-Pl. Pr. 18/46 of 3 July 2014, p. 4180.
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