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Germany: UNHCR welcomes proposed new immigration law

Briefing Notes, 9 November 2001

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 9 November 2001, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Earlier this week, the German government announced that it intends to introduce a new immigration law which will stipulate that people who are subject to persecution by so-called non-state agents of persecution should be considered as refugees within the framework of the 1951 refugee Convention. UNHCR warmly welcomes the proposed change, which would bring an end to one of the most damaging anomalies in legislative practise in Europe. Non-state agents of persecution means groups or organizations that are not controlled by a country's government. Thus, refugees coming from countries that have no functioning government, or whose government does not control the whole territory, were unable to receive refugee status, even if they could prove persecution beyond all reasonable doubt. Even someone who had visibly suffered extreme torture, or who had been raped, would not be recognized as a refugee in the few countries that have excluded victims of non-state agent of persecution from refugee status if the torturer was not working for an official government. Thus, in recent years refugees fleeing persecution in countries such as Liberia, Somalia, Angola or from Taliban-held Afghanistan were routinely excluded from refugee status under the 1951 Convention. The proposed change to the law would bring Germany into line with virtually all other states that have signed the 1951 Convention.

The idea that victims of non-state agent of persecution could be excluded from receiving refugee status crept into the legislative practise of a few European countries over the years. By the mid-1990s, there were six countries that had a similar provision in their laws Germany, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. Sweden and Norway changed their laws in the late 1990s to get rid of this distinction, and the practice of excluding victims of non-state agents has in practise been considerably diluted in France and Italy. Switzerland has stated publicly that it is considering a change. However, the practise is still on the statute books in both Switzerland and Germany. UNHCR's position and that of virtually all states outside of Europe has always been that, under the 1951 Convention, the key factor in a refugee claim is the risk of persecution, not the identity of the persecutor.

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Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

Through the Clouds to Germany: One Syrian Family's Journey

On Wednesday, Germany launched a humanitarian programme to provide temporary shelter and safety to up to 5,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. A first group of 107 flew to Hanover in the northern city of Hanover. They will attend cultural orientation courses to prepare them for life over the next two years in Germany, where they will be able to work, study and access basic services. Among the group are Ahmad and his family, including a son who is deaf and needs constant care that was not available in Lebanon. The family fled from Syria in late 2012 after life became too dangerous and too costly in the city of Aleppo, where Ahmad sold car spare parts. Photographer Elena Dorfman followed the family in Beirut as they prepared to depart for the airport and their journey to Germany.

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