Reuniting refugee families ‘not a priority’ for Berlin

The German government has come under criticism for not doing more to reunite refugees and their immediate families. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

Recognised asylum seekers face huge difficulties bringing their families to Germany, Syrian refugees included. In comparison to other EU member states, Germany has particularly high bureaucratic requirements. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

This is clear from a reply that the German government gave to a question posed by the Green party, seen by Tagesspiegel. Since 2014, around 18,400 relatives of Syrian refugees have obtained visas to come to Germany.

Syrians form the largest group among the 1 million refugees to have arrived in Germany in 2015. Overall, by 30 September 2015, nearly 207,000 refugees had a right to family reunification, as they had been formally recognised as asylum seekers or in need of protection.

The Greens’ refugee policy spokesperson, Luise Amtsberg, warned against scare tactics in relation to the issue. “In its response to my question, the government itself made the absurd assumption that family reunification could result in millions of people coming to Germany,” Amtsberg said.

>>Read: Confirmation: Germany welcomed 1 million refugees in 2015

Politicians from the ruling coalition, particularly the CSU, have expressed concerns in recent weeks that the number of refugees could explode due to family reunification. Even the Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, spoke of “substantial immigration”. He has made it clear that he wants to restrict the number of relatives of Syrian refugees arriving in Germany.

In a November letter to the Bundestag’s Vice-President, Johannes Singhammer (CSU), the Minister wrote that in 2014, only 4.8% of residence permits had been granted for family reasons to Syrians. “By far the most frequent country of origin for people requesting family reunification is Turkey,” he added.

Green criticism of low family reunification rate

The situation is unlikely to change anytime soon. This is because of the backlog of asylum applications that the Federal Agency of Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has still yet to get on top of. Only once an applicant has been officially recognised and the application completed can they apply for family reunification.

In the majority of cases opened in 2015, applicants may have to wait more than a year for their chance, should they be successful in being granted asylum. The right to reunification only applies to spouses and underage children, as well as the latter’s’ parents.

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If BAMF is able to work through its backlog, then it is foreseeable that the number of families being reunited would increase.

However, German embassies in the countries close to Syria are still overwhelmed with visa applications. The German embassy in Syria itself is closed, so Syrians that wish to file a visa application must travel to neighbouring Lebanon, where they can expect a wait of up to ten months for an appointment, according to the answer given to the Greens.

Turkey has already scheduled appointments of this nature for December 2016. Staff in Beirut and Istanbul has been bolstered as a result.

Luise Amtsberg estimated that around 60,000 relatives of Syrians are currently awaiting a visa. She said that the increase in personnel, some 39 delegated and 66 recruited locally, to deal with the backlog of applications, is inadequate. “This shows that reuniting families is not a priority for the government,” she added.

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Swenja Gerhard of the Association of binational Families and Partnerships held a similar view. “Reuniting families is the stepchild of immigration,” she said. In comparison to other EU member states, Germany has particularly high bureaucratic requirements.

“In countries affected by crises or conflict it is difficult for applicants to obtain the required documents,” she added. Under pressure for the escalating situation, embassies have relaxed their standards slightly and waived the requirement for certain documents, should the information be confirmed via other means.

>>Read: The cruel fate of the youngest refugees

Participating German authorities have agreed to a slight simplification of the process. Embassies now have direct access to the German Central Register of Foreign Nationals (AZR), so they can confirm whether the relatives that have been named in Germany actually exist and are recognised asylum seekers.

Luise Amtsberg criticised, in particular, the low number of underage refugees being reunited with family members. 

This article was also published by EURACTIV Germany.

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