Joint Declaration on the current state of refugee policy
The politically persecuted have a basic right to asylum that should be unrestricted. We are there for these people. They need our help and therefore should receive our full and best possible support. For those facing political persecution the ‘boat should never be full.’ We greatly value that people have the right to seek asylum in Germany and receive fair treatment. As with all basic rights, the right to claim asylum demonstrates its worth when it is actually claimed. We especially feel duty bound to protect refugees.
At the same time, we have a special responsibility to make a contribution to the housing, care and integration of refugees. We have governing responsibilities in nine of the 16 federal states and in many local authorities. The rising number of refugees poses a great challenge for us. Until the end of July this year, as many people sought refuge in Germany as in the whole of last year. State and local authorities are making great efforts to accommodate asylum seekers as well as possible. The construction of conventional and appropriate accommodation is, however, not always able to keep up with the rising numbers resulting in the use of emergency shelters in sports halls and tents. When deciding on the location of such accommodation we make an effort to include the local population and value voluntary participation and support in the area. Thanks to the unstinting efforts of those working in local authorities, the volunteers and charity organizations we have been able to meet many of the challenges. Every day we need to make compromises and this demands a lot from all of us, especially the refugees.
In these circumstances, policy has to stand the test of numerous circumstances. It needs to tackle the logistical challenges of accommodation in a practical way. It has to give those who come and remain with us some prospect for the future. It also needs to demonstrate to society as a whole that immigration is an advantage for us all. It also needs to share out such resources as are available in a manner that ensures that they reach those most in need. For the Greens all these points belong together. In the coming weeks, people fleeing poverty and the lack of future prospects will arrive but will nevertheless not be allowed to stay. There will be those fleeing war, expulsion and political persecution who will receive protection and a more secure right to remain. Being politically responsible means speaking out about this hard truth and including it in negotiations.
Political responsibility also means recognizing that populism and posturing really do not help. We evaluate all measures and their concrete, verifiable and practical uses. We weigh up the benefits in relation to their suitability. Our refugee policy does not include populism in either word or deed. We want to concentrate on what needs doing now because it really helps. We see national, state and local authorities taking joint responsibility to undertake effective measures. The decisions made at the national refugee summit on 18 June 2015 are, in our opinion, insufficient.
Speeding up recognition procedure
The lynch pin of getting on top of this current situation is the swift approval of a constitutional change in the process of acceptance procedure. This also helps those seeking asylum, as they want clarity as to their situation. The additional 2000 staff in the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), promised for this and next year, will be insufficient to meet the target of an average of three months to decide applications. We call upon the Federal Government to strengthen the staffing and organizational capacity of BAMF beyond the conclusions of the June 2015 conference. This applies particularly to the rapid elimination of the multiplicity of administrative procedures. Alongside new positions, staff from other areas must also be made available quickly and non-bureaucratically either by inter agency transfers or the recall of pensioners. We will judge the Coalition on its promise to reduce the time taken to process applications and reach a decision in an average of three months. Fast processing is the nub of the matter. It is necessary for the speedy integration of recognized asylum seekers and makes it clear that those who cannot stay need to return home. In this way the costs to the state and local authorities will be reduced as will the pressure on the application authorities.
Federal cost sharing
The states and local authorities are financially unable to cope with the costs of housing and integrating refugees. We need the federal authorities to make a lasting and structurally defined contribution to these costs. The current federal/state working group to reform asylum and refugee application procedure needs to come to some fast decisions that will permanently ease the burden at state and local level by creating a structure that moves financial responsibility to national authorities. As the federal government has set the target of reducing the time it takes to decide on asylum requests to an average of three months it should, therefore, from the fourth month, cover the costs of asylum seekers and others with exceptional leave to remain. Ideally the transfer should bring the applicants into the regular social security system, via chapter II that deals with those seeking work and chapter XII that covers general social security. Furthermore we uphold our demand that the current law on social welfare for asylum seekers should be abolished and that all recognized refugees be treated under the regular social security system. In addition there will need to be more federal financial participation in the costs of social housing, language courses and vocational training.
The provision of medical care for refugees should be improved by means of a health card offering the same standard of care as a compulsory health insurance fund. In this area there is already an agreement between the national and state governments (done in the autumn of 2014) for interested states with comparatively sparse populations to jointly examine how best to introduce health cards for those asylum seekers sent to their areas with the aim of sending an appropriate legislative proposal to the Bundestag. This joint assessment should be carried out promptly.
Humane refugee accommodation
The current large number of asylum seekers means that there has to be reception and then follow on accommodation to deal with what can be thousands of people. In many places the urgent goal is to get applicants into more permanent housing before the onset of cold weather. Asylum seekers with a strong claim to refugee status and therefore a good chance of remaining should be moved as soon as possible out of this accommodation and begin integrating into society. Individual states can decide for themselves if they wish to move asylum seekers with less clear cut cases and therefore poorer chances of remaining out of the reception camps into local accommodation or keep them there for the duration of their application procedure. Appropriate legal requirements governing stays in state controlled reception centres need to be created. The national government could participate directly in the supply of accommodation but it is imperative that there is a structure that ensures it takes on some of the financial responsibility.
National and state authorities agreed at the refugee summit in June to pool their limited resources and, inter alia, create clusters at the state level that would ensure greater efficiency. We find this to be a pragmatic solution.
Offer those in the West Balkans an alternative
About half of current refugees are from the West Balkans with virtually no hope of being granted asylum. In order to lighten the burden on the reception centres and the legal system we need to offer these people an alternative. We need legal ways for them to enter the job market. The right to remain and asylum laws need to be linked to immigration legislation. For the economy, the nationality of an urgently needed skilled worker is irrelevant as is the way he or she arrived in Germany. In anticipation of immigration legislation, workers from these countries should be allowed stays of a limited period in order to seek employment. This is not about promoting a brain drain. People who see no future for themselves in their own country will in any case try to leave. The speedy integration of migrants from these countries will also improve the economies in their homelands as they transfer funds back. Furthermore circular or repeat migration has become ever more important and its prevention needs to be debated.
We need offices in the West Balkans and in the reception centres that provide specific information on employment opportunities and what little chance migrants have of being accepted under the asylum process. We expect such a strategy to have a clear effect on the number of asylum seekers from these countries.
We are, however, not convinced about enlarging the list of safe countries of origin. Currently there is no awareness that applying this to Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Macedonia would make any significant difference to the number of applications or the length of their application procedure.
Expanding the list of safe countries of origin would amount to political posturing: especially as the evaluation of this instrument, approved unanimously by the Minister Presidents and agreed to by the federal government, demonstrated its ineffectiveness.
Speeding up the approval process could, however, be achieved for migrants from Kosovo as the sharply increased numbers arriving at the beginning of the year have made them a priority. This and a German government sponsored information programme in Kosovo have resulted in a clear reduction in applications in recent months. This shows that there are other effective ways to reduce the number of asylum seekers and the length of time it takes to deal with their applications.
For those unable to claim safe haven and therefore with no chance of receiving permission to stay, we need to expand our return to origin programme with advice, transport assistance or perhaps funds for a new start.
Improving conditions in countries of origin
There are many reasons why people leave their homes and seek new opportunities in our country. The discrimination and violence that the Roma suffer not just in the western Balkans but also in EU member states such as Hungary and Rumania must be stopped. The European Union has more power than ever to uphold minority rights not just in the member states but also in those western Balkan countries who want to join the EU. All German representatives posted in these countries should be instructed to make the protection of the Roma one of their key messages. We also need initiatives to foster economic development in south eastern Europe. These countries need some long-term prospect of EU membership. Only in this way will they establish proper structures for the rule of law and reduce the push factors of poverty and discrimination.
Clearing barriers to employment market integration
The vital question is, can we make good use of migrant potential and skills in our employment market and so achieve a successful immigrant society? Every euro we spend on training migrants is a euro to avoid a shortage of skilled labour and will later avoid many transfer payments. There are still barriers to qualified and less qualified migrants being integrated into our employment market and we need to get rid of them. The agreement reached at the refugee Summit of 18 June 2015 to allow asylum seekers and those with leave to stay and therefore good prospects of remaining, to receive per capita 300 hours of tuition in integration courses, is a step in the right direction. It is, however, not enough: integration courses of 600 hours per capita need to be offered to all applicants who have been in the country for three months. We need to examine more thoroughly the use of the skill shortage list.
The application procedure must be reduced from its current 15 months to three in order to make job seeking easier and the bureaucratic process simpler.
It is essential that qualifications and skills be identified systematically and as early as possible. We reiterate our request for an additional 1000 employment officers, who, together with chambers of commerce and employers’ organizations, can develop the means and structures to integrate adequately qualified refugees into the job market. This will require a simpler and speedier procedure for the recognition of diplomas (school, university, vocational), courses to improve qualifications and language classes geared to specific occupations. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees needs more money put into its job related language courses for migrants and we need to bring business start up programmes to less populated regions. In many areas employers’ organizations and chambers of commerce have requested measures that could be used to make the most of the skills of migrants.
Germany needs an immigration law
Germany needs an immigration law that will, on the one hand, meet its economic and employment needs whilst respecting the human rights of its immigrants.
A proposal from the Rhineland Palatinate (Shaping immigration –establish an immigration law- Bundesrat paper 70/15) has set out the basic points for an immigration law. In addition, teenagers and young adults with leave to stay, either in education or training or with a confirmed place to do so, should also have right of residence. It is in everyone’s interest that all young people who are already in Germany start and finish a recognized training. We anticipate that the Bundesrat resolution will be adopted with a large majority and that the government will promptly introduce an immigration bill. Immigration policy, however, should not be played off against the imperatives of providing safe haven for refugees. The current regulations governing migrant workers need to be liberalized and expanded to include a priority list of skills required, as is the case in other countries. On this basis we can then establish an annual quota of immigrants and help meet the diverse needs of the employment market.
Katharina Fegebank, Hamburg, Senator
Robert Habeck, Schleswig-Holstein, Deputy Minister-President
Winfried Kretschmann, Baden-Württemberg, Minister-President
Eveline Lemke, Rhineland-Palatinate, Deputy Minister-President
Karoline Linnert, Bremen, Senator
Sylvia Löhrmann, North Rhine-Westphalia, Deputy Minister-President
Anja Siegesmund, Thuringia, Minister
Tarek Al-Wazir, Hesse, Deputy Minister-President
Stefan Wenzel, Lower Saxony, Deputy Minister-President
*Translated into English by Margaret Cameron