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Refugees arrive a Munich reception centre, 2015. The bill on family reunifications for migrants was introduced in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 migrant crisis and sought to slow down the influx of refugees arriving from the Middle East / Photo: screenshot/ZDF

Germany: Federal Cabinet approves new refugee family reunification law

The German Cabinet has approved legislation allowing refugees with subsidiary protection status to bring their direct relatives to Germany. Critics say that the bill breaches human rights, and that it will force more migrants to put their fate in the hands of people-smugglers. Marion MacGregor of Deutsche Welle (DW) reports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet on Wednesday voted to resettle an additional 1,000 migrants per month, provided they are the direct relatives of refugees already living in Germany.

The move follows legislation passed in February to reintroduce family reunifications for migrants with subsidiary protection, after a two-year suspension. All the parties in the new governing coalition — Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democrats (SPD) — agreed on setting the monthly quota at 1,000.

But the bill has drawn criticism from human rights groups, which say it would have a negative impact on vulnerable refugee families.

What does the new family reunification law grant?

Beginning August 1, the new family reunification law will:

  • Expand the right to family reunification to refugees living in Germany with lower-level “subsidiary protection”, a status that falls short of full asylum and doesn’t grant indefinite stay.
  • Grant an additional 1,000 refugees per month the right to settle in Germany, provided they have relatives with subsidiary status already living in the country.
  • Allow only refugees’ spouses, unmarried minors and the parents of minors already in Germany to qualify for the scheme.
  • Give priority to humanitarian cases, such as those affecting young children, the seriously ill or people facing political persecution.
  • Carry over unfulfilled quotas from one month to the next, although only for the first five months.
  • Under exceptional circumstances, even allow migrants in Germany deemed potentially dangerous to apply for family reunification, provided they can prove to authorities that neither they nor their relatives will pose a threat.

Controversy over terrorism suspects

The decision to allow family reunification for those deemed potentially dangerous provoked strong opposition from within the governing coalition. Michael Friese, a CSU parliamentarian, accused the SPD of allowing an additional contingent of migrants to enter through a “back door.”

But a spokesperson for the justice ministry said marriage and family were accorded special significance under Germany’s constitution, and it was important to protect the sanctimony of marriage for those deemed potentially dangerous who had married before they left their country.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Wednesday that allowing family reunification for individuals who had left terrorist organizations and were helping authorities to prevent more serious crimes was “absolutely responsible.”

Human rights concerns

The bill has faced criticism from opposition parties and others who have warned that it breaches the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as other German and international laws.

The UN children’s organization UNICEF says the new law will have “significant long-term negative consequences for a large number of children.” and will lead to bureaucratic delays.

“Children need clear and straightforward processes to enable them to be united with their families as quickly as possible,” the head of UNICEF Germany Christian Schneider said.

Amnesty International (AI) also warned that the new legislation would lead to delays and described it as “irresponsible.” Franziska Vilmar, an asylum law expert with AI in Germany said it was wrong to differentiate between “refugees” and people with only “subsidiary protection” status, because both needed protection.

Family-members who are denied reunification — especially women and children — will be put at greater risk as a result of the legislation, according to Vilmar, because they will only be able to make the journey using people smugglers.

Syrian refugees particularly affected: The new legislation has a particular bearing on Syrian migrants in Germany, the majority of whom were only granted subsidiary protection because they were fleeing civil war and couldn’t prove that they were personally persecuted. Their lower-level status means they are required to return to Syria once the civil war is officially over and Germany deems it safe to return. However, with Syrian president Bashar Assad set to hold onto power, it is not known how the government will treat returning Syrians who refused to fight for the regime.

Why did Germany suspend family reunifications for subsidiary migrants?

In March 2016, the German government introduced a two-year suspension on family reunifications for migrants only entitled to subsidiary protection. The bill was introduced in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 migrant crisis and sought to slow down the influx of refugees arriving from the Middle East. In February 2018, the Bundestag voted to extend the suspension by six months while the terms of the new bill were being negotiated.

Will migrants make use of the new law?

German media reported on Wednesday that some 26,000 enquiries for family reunification had already been made at various refugee agencies across the country, three months before the legislation is due to come into force. The German government, however, has vowed to abide by the strict cap, allowing no more than an additional 1,000 migrants to settle in Germany per month. Fulfilling all these requests under the current quota system would therefore take years.

© DW

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