The German Parliament, der Bundestag. Foto: Bastian Bochinski

On 7 June 2019, the German Parliament adopted several amendments which regulate immigration- and asylum-related issues. Amongst them is the very controversial “Orderly Return Law” (Geordnete-Rückkehr-Gesetz) which toughens the rules on deportations. The amendments are not yet enacted but will be passed on to the second chamber, the Bundesrat.

The fol­lo­wing sec­tion pro­vi­des a non-exhaus­ti­ve sum­ma­ry of key amend­ments intro­du­ced, with a focus on the Asyl­um Act (Asyl­ge­setz, AsylG), the Asyl­um See­kers’ Bene­fits Act (Asyl­be­wer­ber­leis­tungs­ge­setz, Asyl­bLG) and the Resi­dence Act (Auf­ent­halts­ge­setz, Auf­enthG).

I. Amendments to the Asylum Act (Asylgesetz, AsylG)

Coun­sel­ling and legal assistance

One of the key chan­ges is the trans­po­si­ti­on of a cur­rent pilot pro­ject into law, accor­ding to which the Fede­ral Office for Migra­ti­on and Refu­gees (Bun­des­amt für Migra­ti­on und Flücht­lin­ge, BAMF) pro­vi­des coun­sel­ling and legal assis­tance to asyl­um see­kers. This is regu­la­ted in a new provision:

Sec­tion 12a: the pro­vi­si­on fore­sees that the Fede­ral Office pro­vi­des vol­un­t­a­ry and inde­pen­dent legal advice on the asyl­um pro­ce­du­re in a two-step approach: (i) group coun­sel­ling ses­si­ons which pro­vi­de infor­ma­ti­on on the asyl­um pro­ce­du­re as well as on return pro­ce­du­res; and (ii) indi­vi­du­al coun­sel­ling ses­si­ons, which can be car­ri­ed out eit­her by the Fede­ral Office or by wel­fa­re orga­ni­sa­ti­ons if necessary.

ECRE has alre­a­dy expres­sed con­cerns with regard to the qua­li­ty of the­se new coun­sel­ling arran­ge­ments as it rai­ses ques­ti­ons over the inde­pen­dence and poten­ti­al con­flict of inte­rests. Thus, ECRE insists both on the role and the importance of NGO coun­sel­ling to ade­qua­te­ly inform asyl­um see­kers, as it ensu­res a fair and effi­ci­ent asyl­um procedure.

Asyl­um see­kers are now requi­red to resi­de in recep­ti­on cen­tres until the decis­i­on on the asyl­um appli­ca­ti­on and, in the case of rejec­tion, until the depor­ta­ti­on or the exe­cu­ti­on of the depor­ta­ti­on order, for a peri­od of up to 2 years!

Length of stay in initi­al recep­ti­on centres

Ano­ther key ele­ment of the reform rela­tes to the length of stay in an initi­al recep­ti­on cent­re (Auf­nah­me­ein­rich­tung). While the cur­rent Sec­tion 47 fore­sees that asyl­um see­kers shall be requi­red to live for a peri­od of up to six weeks, but no lon­ger than six months, in the recep­ti­on cent­re respon­si­ble for recei­ving them, and up to 24 months if a fede­ral sta­te so deci­des, the intro­du­ced amend­ments sub­stan­ti­al­ly extend this period.

Sec­tion 47(1): Asyl­um see­kers are now requi­red to resi­de in recep­ti­on cen­tres until the decis­i­on of the Fede­ral Office on the asyl­um appli­ca­ti­on and, in the case of rejec­tion of the asyl­um appli­ca­ti­on, until the depor­ta­ti­on or the exe­cu­ti­on of the depor­ta­ti­on order, for a maxi­mum peri­od of 18 months. Fede­ral sta­tes can con­ti­nue to pro­long this up to 24 months. Minors and their par­ents or guar­di­ans, as well as their unmar­ried siblings of full age, should resi­de in recep­ti­on cen­tres for a maxi­mum peri­od of  6 months.

The pro­vi­si­on fur­ther extends the length of stay in recep­ti­on cen­tres to more than 18 months in cer­tain cir­cum­s­tances. This appli­es to asyl­um see­kers from safe count­ries of ori­gin as well as to asyl­um see­kers who fail to coope­ra­te, mis­lead the aut­ho­ri­ties and pro­vi­de wrong infor­ma­ti­on on their natio­na­li­ty and iden­ti­ty. They are requi­red to stay for an unli­mi­t­ed peri­od of time. Fol­lo­wing amend­ments have been added to Sec­tion 47(1):

Per­sons are requi­red to resi­de for more than 18 months in recep­ti­on cen­tres when:

  1. they vio­la­ted their obli­ga­ti­ons to coope­ra­te under  Sec­tion 15(2)(4)-(7) wit­hout suf­fi­ci­ent excu­se or did not coope­ra­te wit­hout delay after non-coope­ra­ti­on through no fault of one’s own,
  2. they repea­ted­ly vio­la­te their obli­ga­ti­ons to coope­ra­te under Sec­tion 15(2)(1)-(3) wit­hout suf­fi­ci­ent excu­se or did not coope­ra­te wit­hout delay after non-coope­ra­ti­on through no fault of one’s own,
  3. they repea­ted­ly mis­led or lied about their iden­ti­ty or nationality,
  4. they repea­ted­ly vio­la­ted reasonable obli­ga­ti­ons to redu­ce hin­dran­ces for depor­ta­ti­on, espe­ci­al­ly con­cer­ning their iden­ti­fi­ca­ti­on or the pre­sen­ta­ti­on or acqui­si­ti­on of tra­vel documents.

Sec­tion 47(1) sen­tence 3 can­not be appli­ed if minors, their par­ents or other legal guar­di­ans or unmar­ried siblings of full age are con­cer­ned. Sec­tions 48 to 50 remain effective.

Access to employment

Ano­ther important chan­ge rela­tes to the access to employ­ment of asyl­um see­kers. While the cur­rent Sec­tion 61(1) regu­la­tes that “ali­ens shall not be allo­wed to take up paid employ­ment as long as they are requi­red to stay in a recep­ti­on cent­re”, the bill fore­sees that an asyl­um see­ker is entit­led to employ­ment when:

  1. The asyl­um pro­ce­du­re is not fina­li­sed within the 9 months peri­od after the lodging of the asyl­um application;
  2. The Fede­ral Employ­ment Agen­cy has appro­ved access to employ­ment or a legal ordi­nan­ce (“Rechts­ver­ord­nung”) pro­vi­des that such access shall be gran­ted wit­hout the pri­or appr­oval of the Fede­ral Employ­ment Agency;
  3. The ali­en is not a natio­nal from a safe coun­try of ori­gin and;
  4. The asyl­um appli­ca­ti­on is not con­side­red inad­mis­si­ble or as mani­fest­ly unfoun­ded, unless the Admi­nis­tra­ti­ve Court has gran­ted sus­pen­si­ve effect to the appeal of the decis­i­on of the Fede­ral Office.

Per­sons who have alre­a­dy been gran­ted inter­na­tio­nal pro­tec­tion in ano­ther EU Mem­ber Sta­te are excluded from all social bene­fits after a tran­si­ti­on peri­od of two weeks

II. Amendments of the Asylum Seeker’s Benefits Act (Asylbewerberleistungsgesetzes, AsylbLG)

One of the main amend­ments to the Asyl­um See­kers’ Bene­fits Act is the exten­si­on of the wai­ting peri­od for appli­cants to access “nor­mal” social bene­fits. Whe­re­as the cur­rent Sec­tion 2 fore­sees that the “Twelfth Book of the Social Code shall app­ly muta­tis mut­an­dis to bene­fi­ci­a­ries who have been on the Fede­ral ter­ri­to­ry for 15 months wit­hout signi­fi­cant dis­rup­ti­on and wit­hout vio­la­ting the law”, the new amend­ment extends this peri­od to 18 months, ther­eby delay­ing the access to bene­fits of an addi­tio­nal 3 months. During this time most bene­fi­ci­a­ries will pre­su­ma­b­ly live in initi­al recep­ti­on cen­tres (see chan­ges in the Asyl­um Act explai­ned abo­ve). Indi­vi­du­als resi­ding in the­se cen­tres are con­side­red as con­sti­tu­ting a  “com­mu­ni­ty of desti­ny” (Schick­sals­ge­mein­schaft) in which it is wron­gly pre­su­med that they will con­duct com­mon acti­vi­ties (e.g. buy­ing gro­ce­ries, coo­king tog­e­ther etc.) which allow them to save costs.

Ano­ther radi­cal chan­ge is that per­sons who have alre­a­dy been gran­ted inter­na­tio­nal pro­tec­tion in ano­ther EU Mem­ber Sta­te, and who­se obli­ga­ti­on to lea­ve the ter­ri­to­ry is enforceable (voll­zieh­bar aus­rei­se­pflich­tig), are excluded from all social bene­fits after a tran­si­ti­on peri­od of two weeks. This can include per­sons who­se appeal against a return decis­i­on is pen­ding, when their emer­gen­cy appeal was rejected.

III. Amendments to the Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz, AufenthG)

The main chan­ges to the Resi­dence Act rela­te to the enforce­ment of the obli­ga­ti­on to lea­ve the fede­ral ter­ri­to­ry (Part 2 of the Resi­dence Act). Over­all, the intro­duc­tion of the “Order­ly Return Law”  sub­stan­ti­al­ly faci­li­ta­tes the use of “cus­t­ody pen­ding depar­tu­re” (“Aus­rei­se­ge­wahr­sam“) under Sec­tion 62b with the aim to enforce depor­ta­ti­ons. Cus­t­ody pen­ding depar­tu­re dif­fers from pre-rem­oval detenti­on (Sec­tion 62). It is limi­t­ed to a peri­od of 10 days and shall app­ly in cases in which a dead­line for lea­ving the coun­try has expi­red. The grounds for cus­t­ody pen­ding depar­tu­re are exten­ded inter alia to cases whe­re asyl­um see­kers fail to coope­ra­te but also to cases in which the­re is no evi­dence of a risk of abs­con­ding. Simi­lar­ly, the aut­ho­ri­ties respon­si­ble for car­ry­ing out depor­ta­ti­ons are gran­ted the right to access apart­ments wit­hout a judi­cial order of a judge in cer­tain cir­cum­s­tances. Some of the key pro­vi­si­ons are out­lined below:

Search of apart­ments and other pre­mi­ses for the pur­po­se of deportation

Sec­tion 58: A total of 7 sub-para­graphs (sub­pa­ra­graph 4 to sub­pa­ra­graph 10) have been added to Sec­tion 58 which regu­la­tes the depor­ta­ti­on order (“Abschie­bung”). They allow the respon­si­ble aut­ho­ri­ty respon­si­ble for brin­ging the per­son to the air­port or to the bor­der to resort to detenti­on for a short peri­od of time and only for the pur­po­se of depor­ta­ti­on (Sec­tion 58(4)).

Sub-para­graphs (5) to (10) pro­vi­de the con­di­ti­ons for sear­ching the apart­ment of a per­son sub­ject to a depor­ta­ti­on order. This has to be dee­med neces­sa­ry for the pur­po­se of depor­ta­ti­on and is based on evi­dence indi­ca­ting that the per­son is pre­sent the­r­ein (Sec­tion 58(5)). Sear­ches of fur­ther pre­mi­ses belon­ging to other per­sons are allo­wed only if the­re is evi­dence of the pre­sence of the con­cer­ned ali­en (Sec­tion 58(6)), while sear­ches at night are only allo­wed if the­re is evi­dence that the detenti­on of the ali­en for the pur­po­se of depor­ta­ti­on would be hin­de­red other­wi­se (Sec­tion 58(7)).

Of par­ti­cu­lar importance is Sec­tion 58(8), which spe­ci­fies that sear­ches under para­graph 6 need to be orde­red by a judge, though in case of immi­nent dan­ger the exe­cu­ting aut­ho­ri­ty may issue that order. A war­rant is the­r­e­fo­re not neces­sa­ry if the aut­ho­ri­ties wish to search an apart­ment under Sec­tion 58(5). The fact that the per­son sub­ject to a depor­ta­ti­on has not been found on the pre­mi­ses sear­ched does not con­sti­tu­te an immi­nent danger.

Exten­si­on of grounds for pre-rem­oval detention

The rules on pre-rem­oval detenti­on have also been modi­fied and the risk of abs­con­ding (Flucht­ge­fahr) beco­mes the focal point allo­wing the aut­ho­ri­ties to detain a per­son for the pur­po­se of depor­ta­ti­on. While some cri­te­ria lead to a pre­su­med risk of abs­con­ding (e.g. mis­lea­ding the aut­ho­ri­ties on one’s iden­ti­ty), other non-exhaus­ti­ve cri­te­ria include pro­ble­ma­tic indi­ca­tors, such as having paid a lar­ge sum of money for the (legal) ent­ry to Ger­ma­ny (Sec­tion 62(3)). as they include

The Law estab­lishes a new type of detenti­on, wher­eby for­eig­ners can be detai­ned when they fail to cla­ri­fy their iden­ti­ty (which in most cases is not their fault!)

Moreo­ver, the Order­ly-Return-Law estab­lishes a new type of detenti­on that can be descri­bed as “detenti­on to obtain par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on” (“Mit­wir­kungs­haft”), wher­eby for­eig­ners can be detai­ned when they fail to com­ply with their obli­ga­ti­ons to coope­ra­te and to cla­ri­fy their iden­ti­ty (Sec­tion 62 (6)).

Ano­ther serious mat­ter of con­cern, which vio­la­tes the cur­rent Return Direc­ti­ve, is the place of pre-rem­oval detenti­on. The bill pro­vi­des that, until 2022, pre-rem­oval detenti­on can be in regu­lar pri­sons ins­tead of spe­cia­li­sed insti­tu­ti­ons, alt­hough detai­nees will be held in pre­mi­ses sepa­ra­te from inma­tes. (Sec­tion 62a(1)).

Exten­si­on of grounds for cus­t­ody pen­ding departure

Sec­tion 62b curr­ent­ly regu­la­tes the grounds and con­di­ti­ons appli­ca­ble to cus­t­ody pen­ding depar­tu­re. The bill cla­ri­fies that, in the con­text of cus­t­ody pen­ding depar­tu­re, the risk of abs­con­ding is not a deter­mi­ning cri­ter­ion. More precisely:

  • Sec­tion 62b(3) pro­vi­des that the per­son is con­side­red as dis­play­ing a beha­viour which leads one to expect that he or she will make the depor­ta­ti­on more dif­fi­cult or impos­si­ble when:
  1. he or she vio­la­ted his or her legal obli­ga­ti­ons to cooperate;
  2. he or she mis­led the aut­ho­ri­ties on his or her iden­ti­ty or nationality;
  3. he or she has been con­vic­ted of an offence on the fede­ral ter­ri­to­ry and had to pay a fine of at least 50 dai­ly rates or
  4. he or she has excee­ded the peri­od allo­wed for vol­un­t­a­ry depar­tu­re by more than 30 days.
  • A new Sec­tion 62b(4) fore­sees that the aut­ho­ri­ties respon­si­ble for car­ry­ing out depor­ta­ti­ons are entit­led to detain a per­son wit­hout a judi­cial order when:
  1. the­re is con­cre­te evi­dence sup­port­ing the sus­pi­ci­on that the con­di­ti­ons regu­la­ted in Sec­tion 62b(1), 1st  sen­tence, are met,
  2. the judi­cial order can­not be obtai­ned before­hand; and
  3. the­re is a reasonable sus­pi­ci­on that the per­son will eva­de the order of detenti­on pen­ding departure.

The per­son is imme­dia­te­ly to be pre­sen­ted to the judge to deci­de upon the order of cus­t­ody pen­ding depar­tu­re for the pur­po­se of deportation.

Jean-David Ott (ECRE), Wieb­ke Judith (PRO ASYL)