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Hartmut Wendt (2003)

Asylum-Related Migration to Germany: Dimensions, Categories of Refugees, Legal Basis, Development, Regions of Origin and European Comparison*

In: Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Vol. 28, 1/2003, p. 67-90, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ISSN: 0340-2398

Immigration by asylum-seekers is a topic which is frequently the subject of controversial discussion from a legal policy point of view which has an impact on the whole immigration debate and on the integration processes. In the nineties, asylum-seekers accounted for a share of roughly 20 % of overall immigration to Germany. In 2001, almost 1.1 million refugees lived in the Federal Republic of Germany, of whom in turn 467,000 (42 %) were asylum-seekers, persons entitled to asylum or their family members. The demographic gap caused by fertility decline, which imposes a burden on the financeability of the social and pension systems, however, can not be closed by immigration alone. Immigration can at best delay the population decline and ageing for a time. This is why family policy measures must simultaneously remedy the structural disadvantages faced by families.

Considerable financial expenditure and social benefits are needed to support asylum-seekers, especially since asylum-seekers frequently undergo a prolonged procedure. The respective legal status (asylum-seekers, persons entitled to asylum or family members of persons entitled to asylum) results in significant legal (residence status) and financial consequences (social benefits). Further financial expenditure is incurred by the Federation and the Länder, inter alia by means of the tasks which have to be carried out by the Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees and the administrative courts.

Asylum-related migration as a form of refugee migration is involuntary or forced migration. The political, economic and social, cultural and ecological causes of flight are as a rule intertwined and amplify one another. Motivational structures which result in migration or flight are however caused among potential migrants only when they become aware of unequal living conditions at individual level. This is conditional in turn on knowledge of an existing development gap. Hence, flight and migration are sensitive reactions by acting individuals to political, sociocultural and economic inequalities between the regions.

The legal basis of granting asylum (protective function), in connection with the Act on Benefits for Asylum-Seekers (social benefits guaranteed by the state), forms an important context for asylum-related migration to Germany. By including the sentence "Persons persecuted on political grounds enjoy the right of asylum" in the Basic Law (Article 16 of the Basic Law of 1949 and 16a of the Basic Law of 1993), the Federal Republic is granting a subjective right to asylum to all politically-persecuted foreigners. Asylum may only be granted in the case of state or quasi-state persecution. The provisions on "safe third states" and "safe states of origin" have since 1993 contributed to a considerable drop in the number of asylum applicants. Regardless of this, a considerable number of asylum-seekers who are not recognised are not deported as a result of the political situation in their countries of origin, or deportation is temporarily suspended (protection against deportation, obstacles to deportation, right to remain, (temporary) suspension of deportation).

The Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees decided on roughly 2.5 million initial applications from 1990 to 2002. The recognition rate was lower than 10 % in all those years. However, this does not include the decisions taken on the basis of administrative court judgments, which make the recognition rate much higher. The recognition rate of asylum-seekers from countries with human rights violations and political persecution is also much higher. The main countries of origin in 2002 were Iraq, Turkey, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Russian Federation, Afghanistan, Iran, Viet Nam, India, Syria and Algeria.

In spite of the considerable fall in the number of asylum-seekers, Germany has taken on the most asylum-seekers within the EU in a comparison spanning many years. Over and above this, with a total of roughly 400,000 civil war refugees, Germany also records the largest proportion of refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Only in 2000 was Germany replaced by the United Kingdom as the country taking most asylum-seekers.

* Original title: Asylwanderung nach Deutschland: Dimensionen, Flüchtlingskategorien, rechtliche Grundlagen, Verlauf, Herkunftsregionen und europäischer Vergleich (full text in German only)

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