A sign directing refugees from Ukraine at the Berlin Central Train Station/Photo: AfricanCourierMedia

Treat all refugees from Ukraine equally — German organisations, activists appeal

Against the background of the difficult situation of non-Ukrainian nationals from Ukraine who were displaced by the war in the country and are currently seeking refuge in Germany, refugee, rights and diaspora support groups have issued an open letter to the Federal Interior Minister, demanding that all refugees from Ukraine should be treated equally.

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OPEN LETTER

On the occasion of the Interior Ministers Conference that takes place from 1-3 June 2022 in Würzburg, Germany, PRO ASYL and the Refugee Councils, as well as many other organizations and initiatives, are demanding a nationwide regulation that guarantees the protection of all people who have fled from Ukraine and an immediate stop to discrimination against third-country nationals and stateless persons from Ukraine.

Since Russia’s military attack on the whole of Ukraine, more than six million people have already fled the country, mostly to the neighboring countries, but many hundreds of thousands of people have also fled to the Federal Republic of Germany.

Ukrainians have so far received unbureaucratic access to residence permits, work permits and social benefits in Germany in accordance with the EU Council Decision of 4 March 2022. This has given them an important sense of security at a pivotal time in their lives that has been upended by the catastrophe of war.

However, other war refugees who have lived, studied or worked in Ukraine, or who have spent their entire lives there as stateless persons, have not been so lucky. For the most part, they are worse off, even though they have fled the same war, the same violence, and their lives have been disrupted, too.

Non-Ukrainian third-country nationals with a temporary right of residence in Ukraine have so far been exempted from the right to temporary protection as war-displaced persons in Germany, if it is assumed that there is a “safe and permanent possibility of return” to the country of origin, according to a circular letter issued by the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

Instead of focusing on the main place of residence as Ukraine, the supposed possibility of return to the country of origin is meant to be decisive – and this despite the fact that according to the guidelines of the EU Commission it is possible to grant protection to war displaced persons who have “meaningful connections” to Ukraine, irrespective of their country of origin.

According to the Ukraine Residence Transition Ordinance, their stay in Germany is permitted until 31 August 2022 and is supposed to open up the possibility for them to either apply for temporary protection or to fulfill the requirements for other purposes under the Residence Law. However, the latter is hardly possible for many refugees in the short amount of time left until this deadline. Moreover, experience shows that the authorities repeatedly urge those affected to leave the country despite their having been permitted to stay.

In the long term, there is a very real risk that people will end up in precarious living conditions. “It is difficult for third-country nationals and stateless persons to think of any future prospects with regard to work, housing, acquiring German language skills, training and studies due to their unclear legal situation and the accompanying restrictive administrative actions in Germany. Hardly any opportunities exist for them to settle down here, to orient themselves, to overcome the experiences of war and escaping war and to participate in society – and this despite the fact that they are just as affected by the war, escaping the war, and possibly even just as traumatized as Ukrainian nationals are,” explains Nora Brezger of the Flüchtlingsrat Berlin.

Wiebke Judith, head of the Legal & Advocacy team at PRO ASYL, clarifies: “Everyone who had to flee from war and violence in Ukraine have lost their place of residence, but not all refugees are being treated equally in Germany. Third-country nationals and stateless persons are sometimes pressured to leave the country by immigration offices despite their temporary legal residence. Applications for temporary protection are often not even accepted. This shows clearly that all people who have fled Ukraine need real security and future prospects, which is what a residence title would provide for them.”

We demand from the Federal Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser, a nationwide regulation for a two-year right of residence for all refugees from Ukraine, in order to create real protection and prospects for all people who had to flee from the Russian war of aggression. In addition, we call on the federal states to already use all legal possibilities available and also to grant a right of residence to refugees from Ukraine who do not hold Ukrainian citizenship.

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The Situation of Third-Country Nationals and Stateless Persons from Ukraine in Berlin

As in the other federal states, third-country nationals and stateless persons in Berlin who have fled Ukraine have to struggle with an uncertain situation under the Residence Law.

In contrast to the other city states of Hamburg and Bremen, however, those in Berlin do not receive a fictitious certificate (Fiktionsbescheinigung) on an official form of the Federal Printing Office after applying for a residence permit in accordance with Section 24 of the Residence Act, but only a pdf document that they can print out themselves.

This document is supposed to confirm the application and the legal residence of the holder, but it does not contain a photo of the applicant, an official signature or a stamp. While employers, universities, language schools and authorities in Hamburg and Bremen can use the fictitious certificate printed on federal printer paper, the opposite is the case with the paper certificates used in Berlin.

The PDF fictitious certificate is also so vaguely worded and contains a number of conditions as a prerequisite for taking up employment that no employer can employ third-country nationals and stateless persons from Ukraine with a clear conscience, because a clear work permit is missing.

It is also unclear whether benefits can be obtained from the Job Center with the PDF certificates. In the past, social welfare agencies, landlords, employers and other agencies have had problems with fictitious documents issued by the Berlin State Office for Immigration to extend residence permits.

We demand that the state of Berlin issue fictitious certificates on the paper provided for this purpose by the Federal Printing Office for all refugees from Ukraine who apply for them, thus giving them access to studies, training and work and social benefits.

Following a Senate resolution of 5 April 2022, an interdepartmental working group was established to examine the possibilities of the State of Berlin to support international students who have fled Ukraine in terms of residence law. We welcome the fact that the Senate has recognized the need for action for third-country nationals, but we demand a solution under the Residence Law not only for students, but for all third-country nationals displaced by war (including foreign workers).

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Signatories to the Open Letter: Adopt a Revolution, Amnesty International Bad Kreuznach, Ausländerarbeit der Ev. Galiläa-Samariter-Kirchengemeinde, AWO Kreisverband Berlin-Mitte e.V., BBZ – Beratungs- und Betreuungszentrum für junge Geflüchtete und Migrant*innen, Bellevue di Monaco eG, BIPoC Ukraine, BZSL e.V., Diaspora Solidarity Group, Each One Teach One (EOTO) e.V., Gemeinschaftsunterkunft „Haus Leo“ – Verein für Berliner Stadtmission, Hinterland Magazin, Initiativausschuss für Migrationspolitik in Rheinland-Pfalz, Initiative Schwarzer Menschen in Deutschland: ISD, JoG – Jugendliche ohne Grenze,n KommMit e.V., KuB – Kontakt- und beratungsstelle für Flüchtlingse und Migrant_innen e.V., Landesnetzwerk Migrantenorganisationen Sachsen-Anhalt (LAMSA) e.V., LIGA – Leininger Initiative Gegen Ausländerfeindlichkeit Medinetz Mainz e.V., MeG betreutes Wohnen gGmbH, Migrationsrat Berlin Multikulturelles Zentrum Trier e.V., Münchner Flüchtlingsrat e.V., Netzwerk Rassismus- und Diskriminierungsfreies Bayern-NRDB, PxP Embassy, rage against abschiebung, Seebrücke Potsdam, SyriaNotSafe, We’ll Come United Berlin-Brandenburg, Help for Africans from Ukraine in Germany Initiative and Xenion – Psychosoziale Hilfen für politisch Verfolgte e.V.

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