Arson, displacement and unemployment: Life after asylum in Germany

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It is almost impossible to legally ask for asylum in Germany. In order to do so the country from which a person enters Germany must itself be carrying out persecution. This does not apply to any of the countries that border Germany, so the only way to legally ask for asylum is to enter the country by sea or air.

According to the Dublin Convention, Germany can send any asylum seeker back to their country if the government is able to prove where they come from. If this cannot be done, the asylum seeker can still only apply for limited protection.

After having applied, the asylum seekers are dispersed across the Bundesländer (the German federal states) and must stay in the accommodation they are given until a decision is made about their request. This process can go on for more than a year, especially for those from countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. If asylum cannot be granted, they may still be granted protection as refugees. A refugee is a person who “is temporarily out of their native country because of fear of persecution due to their religion, nationality, political view or social conditions” and “whose human rights have been or might be violated”.

Refugees are not allowed to work in Germany for the first three months of their stay and even after this period Germans and Europeans are given priority when applying for jobs. In Bavaria refugees have to survive on just a daily packed lunch and approximately €40 per month for adults, and €20 a month for children.

If neither of the conditions for refugee protection exist, the person in question might have the right to provisional protection if “there are decisive and plausible threats of serious harms in their native country”. The Dublin Convention states that the very last form of protection is the right not to be deported back to the native country

In most of the cities the accommodation for refugees is overcrowded, and authorities have had to resort to emergency solutions. For example, in Dortmund 270 migrants have been forced to live in a gym. They complain about a lack of privacy, terrible food, a shortage of toilets and a lack of electricity in the evening. But primarily, they are afraid of the future. They do not know how to begin the process of integration or how they will be able to live in a foreign country without a job. Their prospects and expectations are low.

There has been a worrying rise in the number of xenophobic attacks, which seems to be linked to the the surge in asylum claims. During 2014 there were 175 such attacks; in the first few months of 2015 alone, there had already been 200.

Most of these take the form of arson attempts on refugee accommodation. However it is not unusual for families to suffer from targeted aggression, as experienced by a family in Brandenburg an der Havel who had been living there for three years at the time of the attack. In Freital, a town near Dresden, refugees were effectively imprisoned in the hotel where they were staying because locals were continuously threatening to burn the building down. Most of the anti-refugee incidents and protests have taken place in East Germany, where the number of non-Germans is far lower than in West Germany.

There has also been an increase in xenophobic content on the internet and social media: Google recently deleted a map which showed the location of refugee shelters (“No refugee camps in my neighborhood”). In an unmistakeable reference to Nazi concentration camps,  disturbing comments about “turning on the gas again” have also been circulating.

On the other hand, there is also plenty to demonstrate how welcoming Germans can be towards migrants and refugees. In many cities volunteers are offering free German language classes and assistance filling out request forms, opening their homes to asylum seekers, and providing emergency food and clothing. During the evening news on the Norddeutscher Rundfunk, an anchorwoman recently spoke out about her disappointment over the rise in xenophobic attacks and has urged citizens to stand up against such attacks.

While the situation currently gives cause for concern, it is hoped that the government will be able to gain control over the situation to avoid reaching the levels of xenophobia which blighted the country in the early 90s.

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