Rising Number of Asylum Applications
Since its low point in 2007, when only about 20,000 first-time applications were registered, the number of asylum claims has been rising steadily. In 2014, more than 173,000 first-time applications for asylum were filed, a number last recorded in 1993. Germany has therefore regained its place as one of the main destinations for asylum seekers, in comparison to other industrial states internationally and in the EU. Together with the USA, Germany recorded by far the highest absolute number of asylum claims in the period 2010 to 2014, with more than 400,000 initial applications filed in each of the two countries.
Info boxWhy do asylum seekers come to Germany?
In 2014, 600,000 asylum applications were filed in the EU, one third of them in Germany. A question regularly raised in public debate is why people are increasingly choosing to seek protection in Germany, and not in other European states with a more appealing geographic location. In many arguments, this is solely attributed to the comparatively high social security benefits for refugees in Germany. Numerous studies on the choice of destination have shown, however, that this is a very narrow and one-sided view, which does not take the complexity of such decisions into account. It is true that the country's prosperity and the level of social security benefits play a role in the choice of destination, yet these aspects are not more important than other factors, such as the level of protection and accommodation standards. In fact, it is existing social networks that are of paramount importance with regard to destination choice. This may explain the huge divergence in refugees' countries of origin that can be observed when comparing the refugee population in different EU Member States. For example, Germany receives many asylum claims from Afghans, Syrians and citizens of West Balkan countries because there are already larger communities of these groups in Germany than in other European states.*
* Scholz (2013); Brekke/Aarset (2009), Nordlund/Pelling (2012), Neumayer (2004); SVR (2014); Baraulina et al. (2007).
High Recognition Rates
In public debate, special attention is attributed to recognition rates, that is, the share of positive asylum decisions measured against all decisions taken on asylum claims. Low recognition rates are sometimes regarded as an indication of asylum seekers' non-existent need for protection, or of alleged asylum abuse in order to claim social benefits. In fact, recognition rates have to be looked at carefully. Low recognition rates – the media sometimes misleadingly only reports refugee recognition in accordance with Article 16a of the German Constitution – may be a result of a state's restrictive approach to granting asylum. A useful indicator is therefore the "gross recognition rate" (Gesamtschutzquote), which encompasses all forms of protection (right to asylum in accordance with Article 16a of German Basic Law, Geneva Convention refugees, subsidiary protection). In 2014, the "gross recognition rate" was at 31.5 percent, equal to the average of the last eight years (see Figure 2).
The significant rise in recognition rates since 2007 is the result of the implementation of the EU Qualification Directive, according to which non-State persecution has to be recognized more strongly as a reason for granting protection. In fact, the level of recognition is even higher if so-called "formal decisions" are excluded. These are decisions made without closer examination as to the content of the asylum application, e.g. because, according to the Dublin Regulation, another EU Member State is responsible for processing the application. In 2014, the so-called "adjusted gross recognition rate" was 48.5 percent. The actual recognition rate is even higher because some court appeals against negative asylum decisions by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) are successful. So far, the rise in the number of asylum seekers has not led to a decreasing level of recognition.
In the past, the Federal Republic of Germany has occasionally been involved in the resettlement of refugees, for example in the case of Vietnamese boat people, or the admission of 2,500 Iraqi refugees from Syria and Jordan in 2009 and 2010, within the framework of EU-wide coordinated action.
Temporary Admission Programs
In reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis, Germany was one of the few European states to launch large-scale humanitarian programs for the temporary admission of Syrian refugees, complementary to the regular asylum procedure. In May 2013, the first federal program for the reception of 5,000 refugees was set up; in December 2013, the federal government agreed to accept another 5,000 Syrian refugees, and in June 2014 it decided to enlarge the program once again and make another 10,000 places available. Refugees accepted in the framework of this program come to Germany from Syria's neighboring countries (especially from Lebanon) without having to undergo the regular asylum procedure. They are initially granted a two-year residence permit and are immediately entitled to work. In addition to the federal program, 15 Länder (with the exception of Bavaria) drafted admission decrees, allowing Syrians already living in Germany to bring their relatives to Germany, on the condition that they pay for the costs of accommodation and living. It was these obligations, however, that proved to be too high a hurdle for many families. Additionally, refugee organizations criticized the fact that the admission programs were agreed upon too late and implemented too slowly to provide effective relief.
The significant rise in the number of asylum claims since 2010 has reignited the debate on asylum and refugee protection. Municipalities in Germany are confronted with huge challenges regarding the accommodation of refugees. At the same time, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees did not have sufficient staff to process the asylum applications, so the backlog has grown – even though the current government parties pledged to reduce the length of asylum procedures to three months in their coalition agreement of 2013.
In particular, the large number of asylum applications filed by Serbians, Macedonians and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina have fuelled a new debate on "asylum abuse," in light of the low recognition rates for their asylum claims (2014: <0.5 percent). After the abolition of the visa requirement for citizens of these countries in December 2009, and an increase in social benefits following a verdict of the German Constitutional Court of July 2012, the number of asylum applications escalated. As a result of the coalition negotiations in the fall of 2013, Serbia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were added to the list of safe countries of origin. Since this legal measure entered into force at the beginning of November 2014 the number of asylum applications has slightly dropped. In exchange for this, Parliament passed a legislative package in September 2014, reducing the ban on work for asylum seekers from nine to three months and making residence requirements less restrictive, along with other provisions. Until then, the so-called Residenzpflicht had obliged asylum seekers to stay in the administrative district of the reception center in which they were accommodated, only allowing them to leave this territory in exceptional cases and on the basis of a formal request.
At the beginning of 2015, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees registered rising numbers of asylum applications lodged by citizens of Kosovo, which, so far, has not been declared a "safe country of origin". However, only very few Kosovars were granted some form of humanitarian protection. Since February 2015 their applications are examined in an expedited procedure, generally within two or three weeks. In combination with very low recognition rates and information campaigns in Kosovo this measure has led to a significant drop in asylum claims of Kosovars.
The local municipalities respond to the challenges of receiving refugees in different ways. In many places, the population shows huge solidarity and provides support for refugees. Elsewhere, however, citizens' movements react to the establishment of new refugee accommodation in a skeptical or even hostile manner. In this context, numerous protests against the reception of asylum seekers have been initiated or exploited by radical right-wing actors such as the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). So far, nevertheless, solidarity and the willingness to take in refugees have prevailed within the population, and the current situation is different to the one at the beginning of the 1990s. According to a study published in 2014, 24 percent of Germany's population stated that they would support citizens' initiatives against the establishment of refugee shelters; in 1992, 37 percent of the population shared that attitude. In the same period, the share of those who explicitly said they would not vote against the erection of shelters for asylum seekers increased from 41 percent to 51 percent of the population.
This text is part of the policy brief Interner Link: German Asylum Policy and EU Refugee Protection: The Prospects of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).