A recent debate over the revocation of refugee status for Syrian nationals in Germany has raised some questions. Are people with refugee protection allowed to visit their home country? What happens if you are found to have broken the law? Charlotte Hauswedell of InfoMigrants takes a closer look.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has suggested that asylum-seekers from Syria should be deported if they have returned home on regular private visits.
“Anyone who is a Syrian refugee and regularly goes to Syria on holiday cannot seriously claim to have been persecuted. We have to deprive such a person their refugee status,” Seehofer told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
The interior minister was criticized by the organization of Germany’s Protestant churches, Diakonie, which said that there have been only a few cases of Syrians who visited home. Diakonie added that these refugees had only returned to Syria because of emergencies, such as to see their dying parents or to prevent the eviction of their property through the Assad regime.
Refugees are generally not allowed to travel back to their home country. Refugee protection is granted on the presumption that it is unsafe to return. Going back would imply that the situation in your country has improved and refugee status is not necessary anymore. Authorities could also come to the conclusion that the grounds on which they granted protection were unfounded in the first place.
However, particular circumstances might require that a refugee return home for a temporary visit. What if, for example, a Syrian holding refugee status in Germany has to visit a family member due to a medical emergency? Will the immigration authorities track these travel movements? Will people be deported to Syria if they lose their refugee status?
The agency responsible for granting refugee status and ordering deportations in Germany is the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).
So InfoMigrants asked the BAMF to answer the most pressing questions. Below is a summary of their answers.
Are there exceptions under which refugees are allowed to visit home?
There are circumstances that the BAMF considers exceptional. Some examples of this: Attending a funeral or visiting severely ill family members. If a person returns for these reasons, this will not prompt revocation of refugee status. However, the BAMF said it cannot make general statements because each case is assessed individually.
How are home visits detected by the authorities?
The BAMF replied that usually, they “receive tips from police or branches of the foreigners‘ authority.”
But the agency also said that it has “functioning communication channels to be informed” about the departure of refugees or asylum holders to their home countries.
While the BAMF does not track travel movements, according to an addition to the German asylum law (§ 8 Abs. AsylG), authorities such as the police, border control, the foreigner’s authority, or the social welfare office are required to notify the BAMF if a person with refugee or asylum protection visits their home country. This information is then used by the BAMF to check if a reassessment of protection status (“Widerrufsprüfung”) is necessary.
There are around 770,000 Syrian refugees in Germany. How many go back to Syria to visit? How many lost their refugee status because of this?
The BAMF said it does not have actual numbers or estimates on this.
What is available are numbers on the revocation of refugee status in Germany. However, these statistics do not reveal the reasons for revocation. The status could have been withdrawn for many reasons other than home travel.
The most recent figures show that there were 85,052 cases where the protection status was reassessed in 2018. In 535 cases, refugee status was revoked. 53,541 Syrian nationals’ cases were decided on, only 248 Syrians had their protection status revoked.
Currently, persons holding refugee protection are due for a reassessment of their protection status every three years. In this reassessment – or ‘Widerrufsprüfung’ – the BAMF checks if a person is still entitled to protection or if the circumstances in their home country have changed and are no longer life-threatening.
What measures are taken if someone is found out?
If the BAMF finds out about home travel, it can initiate a special reassessment over individual misconduct. The BAMF said that “if the travel is for holiday reasons, or a long-term stay in the home country, this can be an indication that the refugee faces no fear of persecution.” In this case, refugee protection can be revoked in accordance with the German asylum law.
Can Syrians be deported?
Even if refugee status is revoked, a Syrian national under current German law cannot be deported back to Syria. Germany has banned deportations to Syria. But that ban is currently only valid until the end of the year. Whether (and if so, for how long) it will be extended is not yet known.