Contribution by the German National Network Focal point, Katharina Vogt (Officer for migrant and refugee policy, Arbeiterwohlfahrt Bundesverband e.V. Berlin)
The Ministers of Interior of the German Länder (Germany’s regional governments) have agreed for Germany to offer an additional 10,000 places for Syrian refugees via the national Humanitarian Admission Programme (HAP), bringing the total number of places offered by Germany through this programme for refugees fleeing Syria to 20,000 persons.
This is an important signal to other EU Member states to join Germany in offering resettlement and other forms of admission for refugees from Syria. The 20,000 people who will be given shelter in Germany will not have to risk their lives at sea or be exploited by smugglers in order to reach safety in Europe. This is a welcome decision and a gesture of solidarity towards both the refugees as well as Syria’s neighbouring countries, who are now hosting over 2.9 million persons who have fled the conflict.
While applauding the commitment of the German government in this regard, the Arbeiterwohlfahrt Bundesverband e.V. (AWO), as the National Network Focal Point of the ERN, would advocate for further improvements to be made to the legal framework and to the practical implementation of the programme, as detailed below.
Syrians arriving via HAP are not granted long-term residence status in Germany. Instead of providing a durable solution, which we believe Syrian refugees need, the programme instead provides only temporary protection, without long-term stability or certainty.
Furthermore, we would like to underline that improvements are needed in the practical implementation of the programme. The selection of persons to arrive under the HAP is currently quite a lengthy process, while only a small proportion of the 10,000 Syrians due to be received under the first HAP have to date reached Germany. Bureaucratic procedures governing access to HAP should now be evaluated and improvements should be made to speed up the procedures as soon as possible.
Although the recent decision to extend the HAP by a further 10,000 places is very welcome, the programme must be considered within its wider context of other admission possibilities for Syrian refugees trying to reach Germany, many of whom experience great difficulties in trying to do so. Visa entry requirements are unnecessarily strict, and family members wishing to join their relatives in Germany must often wait long periods for an appointment at a German embassy in Syria´s neighbouring countries and/or face the challenge of returning to Damascus to obtain identity documents from the Syrian authorities.
At AWO, we therefore hold that, in addition to the admission possibilities offered by the HAP, other avenues should be explored to extend the access of Syrians to Germany. Wider use should be made of the provisions for family reunification that are already available under German law. We would also recommend that Syrians are exempted from visa requirements, and that any Dublin transfers of Syrian asylum seekers with relatives living in Germany be suspended.
In summary, we would urge the German government to make good on its well-intentioned commitment of 20,000 HAP places by ensuring that Syrian refugees selected for the HAP are able to reach the territory as soon as possible, encountering a minimum of bureaucratic obstacles and procedures along the way, and ultimately finding safety, security and protection for themselves and their families.
For more information, the official government statement outlining conditions for HAP III can be accessed here.