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Refugees

Opinion: Right to asylum only for persecuted

Is Germany's tightening of asylum law really as scandalous as designated by many critics? DW's Felix Steiner says the true scandal lies elsewhere.

Not even six weeks have passed since the commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the formation of Germany's constitution in the Bundestag. Then, Muslim scholar and author Navid Kermani lamented the state of a fundamental right to seek asylum in Germany. Kermani complained about how the clear statement "persons persecuted on political grounds shall have the right of asylum" was replaced in 1993 by a "monstrous order of 275 words piled up and convoluted to hide one thing: that Germany has de facto abolished asylum as a fundamental right."

He called on the parliamentarians in the Bundestag to rid Germany's constitution of this "ugly, heartless spot."

New 'safe countries of origin'

Two-thirds of the parliamentarians obviously don't share Kermani's point of view. They have approved a law that is based on exactly that "monstrous order of 275 words": Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina are now regarded as "safe countries of origin." That basically allows for more lenient scrutiny of asylum applications of citizens from these states - meaning applicants could be sent back to those countries a lot quicker.

Will human rights be violated, as critics of the new law suspect? No, because none of those West Balkan states are working under the conditions as laid out by the fathers and mothers of the constitution in 1949 who drafted Germany's asylum policy. Applicants from these three countries are almost exclusively Roma - who are disadvantaged on many levels in their home countries - but are not being persecuted there.

Felix Steiner (photo: DW/Per Henriksen)

DW's Felix Steiner

German asylum policy cannot be the instrument to solve those problems.

There's another reason why the decision of the German parliament is right: At the moment, one in five asylum seekers in Germany originate from one of these three states. The absolute number of these applications has increased tenfold since Serbs, Bosnians and Macedonians don't need a visa in order to travel to Germany.

Without this new law, the inevitable consequence would be a return to issuing visas for all citizens of these countries - which would represent a major disadvantage for them.

Prioritize refugees from Syria and Iraq

Furthermore, in times of rapidly increasing numbers of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the legislature would be wise to concentrate aid on those whose lives are in danger.

It's almost impossible to impart a need for newly erected homes for refugees and asylum seekers - in cities and towns across Germany - if those are used almost exclusively by people who have to be sent back to their countries of origin because their asylum applications were apparently not justified. Those who expect more aid from Germany for victims of conflicts in Syria and Iraq - and rightly so - have to accept setting priorities.

It's not this new tightening on asylum policy that's scandalous. What's scandalous is that a huge portion of Syrians who came to Germany had to risk their lives yet again by crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat in order to find refuge.

And it's also scandalous that in a country where there's constant complaint regarding the need for more skilled workers, many of these skilled workers from beyond Europe's borders have to apply for asylum in order to get here in the first place.

To refer back to Kermani: It would be nice if this "ugly, heartless spot" of German legislation could be improved by the next milestone birthday.

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