2.6.2015 | Von:
Jan Schneider
Marcus Engler

Asylum Law, Refugee Policy and Humanitarian Migration in the Federal Republic of Germany

Restriction of the Constitutional Promise of Protection: the "Asylum Compromise"

Against the backdrop of these fierce debates and developments, the Social Democrats (SPD), the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Christian Democratic parties (CDU/CSU) agreed, at the beginning of December 1992, on a radical and restrictive reform of the German asylum law, known as the "asylum compromise" (Asylkompromiss). Since the middle of the 1980s, representatives of the CDU and the CSU had been pushing for restrictions to the broad right of asylum laid down in the German Constitution. But the SPD and FDP had withheld approval, so the two-thirds majority required to amend the Constitution could not be reached. On 6 December 1992 an all-party compromise finally led to the required constitution-amending majority, and a few months later the right of asylum was significantly curbed by decision of the German Bundestag (lower house of parliament). In particular, the introduction of the concepts of "safe third countries" and "safe countries of origin" made it much more difficult to claim asylum in Germany (see info box on safe third countries and safe countries of origin). The asylum compromise also introduced the so-called airport procedure (Flughafenverfahren), an expedited mechanism allowing for asylum claims to be processed in the transit area of airports (Article 18a of the Asylum Procedure Act/AsylVfG). Furthermore, the adoption of the Asylum-Seekers' Benefits Act (Asylbewerberleistungsgesetz) created a separate social security system for asylum seekers, with a significantly lower level of benefits.[5]


Info box

Safe third countries and safe countries of origin

According to German law, safe third countries are states which guarantee humanitarian protection in accordance with the Geneva Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. Asylum seekers can be sent back to these countries without their application for asylum being reviewed by German authorities (Article 26a of the Asylum Procedure Act/AsylVfG). Besides the EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland are also currently considered safe third countries. Since Germany is surrounded by safe third countries, people seeking protection have to travel to Germany by air or sea, or cross the land border illegally.

Safe countries of origin are states where there is assumed to be no risk of political persecution, or of inhuman or humiliating punishment or treatment (Article 29a AsylVfG). Safe countries of origin are currently (as of March 2015) all EU Member States as well as Ghana, Senegal, Serbia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Asylum applicants from these countries undergo a simplified and accelerated asylum procedure with limited opportunities to appeal. The German Bundestag and Bundesrat (Federal Council, upper house of parliament) may decide which countries are added to, or removed from the list of safe countries of origin.
On 1 July 1993, the restrictions on the right to asylum entered into force. In the second half of 1993, the number of new asylum applications dropped significantly. It remained on an annual level of over 100,000 for some years, then declined continuously as various conflicts in Europe ended, reaching its low point in 2007. These years saw a significant decrease not only in the absolute number of asylum claims filed in Germany, but also in Germany's share of all the asylum applications registered in the EU. In 1992, Germany had processed over 70 percent of all asylum applications filed in the European Community (EC), in 2000 it was just 20 percent.[6] Now, other European states hosted many more asylum seekers than Germany, which was also a repercussion of the German asylum compromise. At the same time, the German government succeeded to incorporate some of the main components of the restrictive German asylum law into European Community law. Thus, ever since the middle of the 1990s, asylum policy increasingly underwent a process of Europeanization.

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


At the same time, the "asylum compromise" was a "compromise on immigration": as a result of negotiations, for example, the remigration of ethnic German emigrants (Aussiedler) was curtailed and naturalization was made easier (Herbert 2003, pp. 196ff, 318f; Schimany/Luft 2014).
Schimany (2014), p. 51.
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