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July 1998, Volume 5, Number 7

Germany: Asylum, Politics

Asylum/Bosnians. On June 25, Germany approved legislation that would reduce benefits to the estimated 10,000 to 30,000 foreigners in Germany who entered "to receive welfare" and those who have deliberately destroyed their papers to prevent their removal, to the minimum in-kind assistance needed for survival. Most asylum seekers get 80 percent of the welfare benefit available to Germans, which includes housing, health care and a cash payment of DM360 ($200) for the head of the household, and DM310 ($175) for each family member.

The number of asylum applicants in May 1998 was 6,800, with most coming from ex-Yugoslavia, Turkey and Iraq. In 1995, Germany spent DM5.5 billion (US $3 billion) caring for asylum applicants, about the same amount as in 1994.

The year 1998 has been proclaimed as the Year of Return for Bosnians in Germany. Some 350,000 Bosnians were in Germany when the Dayton peace agreement was signed in December 1995, and 150,000 returned by June 1998. Another 40,000 are expected to return in 1998.

Each of the 16 German states combines three themes in persuading Bosnians to go home: Bosnians may not remain in Germany, Bosnia needs their return, and Germany will pay those who return voluntarily. For example, Berlin offers DM,2,500 for each adult who departs, plus DM 1,000 for each child, paid by the International Office of Migration to the family in Bosnia. In addition, Berlin offers the community that accepts the returning family up to DM 8,000 for each family to assist with their integration. Berlin had about 22,000 Bosnians in May 1998.

Many Bosnians and German officials complain that Bosnian authorities tax away these financial return incentives. Bosnia has very high tariffs on imported goods, so a family returning by car with its possessions may have to pay the entire return bonus in tariffs.

The German defense minister said on June 2 that the government would encourage more German business investment in Bosnia in order to improve the economic conditions for the return of Bosnian refugees from Germany.

Polish border police reported in June that they apprehended 1,000 foreigners attempting to illegally enter Germany across the Oder River so far in 1998. Most were from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

Politics. The CDU-CSU parties campaign on a joint political platform, but they are distinct parties--the CSU operates in Bavaria, and the CDU in the 15 other German states. As the CDU-CSU prepare their joint platform for September 1998 elections, there is a definite split between them over immigration: the CSU wants the CDU-CSU platform to say that Germany is not a country of immigration, while many CDU leaders do not want such absolute language.

In mid-June, SPD candidate Gerhard Schroeder called for a "lengthy" transition period before Poles and nationals of other Eastern Europeans joining the EU could obtain freedom of movement rights, the right to seek work anywhere in the EU on an equal basis with local workers. If an EU national finds a job in another EU country, that country must issue him any necessary residence and work permits.

Schroeder also called for equality of minimum wages within the EU to prevent "social dumping," moving workers and jobs around the EU to minimize labor costs. Schroeder praised the 1997 German law that requires all workers on German construction sites to be paid a minimum wage of about DM17 an hour. About 35 percent of the construction workers in Berlin are foreigners.

Economy. Germany lost 420,000 jobs in 1997 and the unemployment rate reached almost 12 percent. In May 1998, unemployment declined to 4.2 million or below 11 percent--nine percent in western Germany and 18 percent in the east.

Political scientist Christian Joppke argues that the industrial democracies have the capacity but not the will to reduce or eliminate unwanted immigration for several reasons, including (1) the ability of special interest groups such as employers to keep border gates open; (2) the tendency of elites to favor immigration, and to avoid screening out newcomers in ways that might be perceived as racist, and; (3) legal systems that tend to grant rights to all residents and permit established foreigners to settle.

In the case of Germany, courts ruled that foreigners have the right to appeal deportation decisions in court, that Germany cannot refuse to renew the residence permit of a foreigner simply because Germany is not a country of immigration, and that Germany's "special obligation" to guest workers who were recruited justified easier family unification rules for them. Thus, laws in Germany often formalized practice. For example, in 1978, "permanence regulations" (Aufenhaltsverfestigungen) were enacted after a court ruled that an Indian whose residence permit had been renewed since 1961 could not simply be denied further renewal; after that time, authorities had to justify the refusal to renew residence permits of established foreigners.

The 16 German states can determine family unification rights of foreign residents, although the federal government in 1981 recommended that the states draw a distinction between first- and second-generation resident foreigners. In 1987, German courts upheld the federal government's recommendation that second-generation resident foreigners had to live in Germany for at least eight years and wait at least one year after marriage, before their spouses could join them in Germany. The 1990 Foreigners Law codified prevailing practice and liberalized law in several areas, including abolishing the one-year wait for the spouses of second-generation foreigners, but also sought to close the guest-worker chapter of German history by making it more difficult for new entrants to acquire residence and family unification rights.

On June 13-14, Berlin held its first-ever Turkish Education Fair to familiarize immigrant parents with the local education system and to encourage them to take a greater interest in their children's education. About 25 percent of Turkish children in Germany leave school without any type of completion certificate, compared to 10 percent of German children. However, some think the problem is worsening because of residential segregation: in Kreuzberg and Wedding sections of Berlin, non-German speaking children are 80 percent of the pupils in some elementary schools.

Beginning in September 1998, all children entering pre-school at age five are to be tested and special language classes will be provided for those with inadequate German. However, many Turkish parents do not send their children to school until age six, when schooling is compulsory.


Yojana Sharma, "Arresting downward spiral of migrant children," Inter Press Service, June 18, 1998. "Germany to assist Bosnia refugee return--minister," Reuters, June 2, 1998. Joppke, Christian. 1998. Why Liberal States Accept Unwanted Immigration. World Politics. Vol 50. No 2. 266-293. Sozialhilfe und Leistungen an Asylbewerber 1995. 1997. Wirtschaft und Statistik. May. 331-341.