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Germany: draft immigration law before Parliament

Briefing Notes, 1 March 2002

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 1 March 2002, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

As I speak, a draft for a new immigration law is being reviewed by the German Parliament. UNHCR warmly welcomes two aspects of this draft legislation in particular: if the law is passed, for the first time in Germany people who have been persecuted by an entity other than a state can be recognised as refugees under the 1951 Convention. In legal terms, this is known as persecution by a "non-state agent." In addition, the new law will also mean that gender-based persecution will also be acknowledged for the first time as genuine grounds for obtaining asylum.

Germany and France are currently the only countries in the European Union not to recognise persecution by non-state agents for example by entities in failed states (such as the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan), or in states where the recognised government is effectively unable or unwilling to protect some of its citizens from persecution by other forces.

There is nothing in the 1951 Convention to suggest that you can only be recognised as a refugee if persecuted by a state, and UNHCR has always strongly opposed this method of excluding a considerable number of people very clearly in need of international protection. Outside the EU, Switzerland is the only state to still exclude victims of persecution by non-state agents from refugee status. However, last year the Swiss government also indicated that it was considering rectifying this dangerous legal anomaly, whereby people fleeing flagrant persecution in their country of origin could still have their claims dismissed as unfounded, simply because their persecutors were not recognised as being a state.

The recognition that people can also be persecuted because of their gender something which is not explicitly spelled out in the 1951 Convention is also an important development. Until the late 1990s, gender-based persecution was hardly recognised anywhere. However, in recent years there has been a welcome trend towards realising that gender is indeed on occasion the principal reason for persecution.

UNHCR has been concerned about some of the existing anomalies in the refugee definition in some European countries, because the refugee definition is one of the principal subjects currently under discussion in the EU asylum harmonisation process. Under this process, all measures will have to be agreed unanimously by the members of the EU. UNHCR hopes that these two elements of the draft German legislation will thus pass intact through the German parliamentary process. Today's reading in the Bundestag is only the first step. The immigration bill will also have to pass through the Bundesrat the chamber of the Federal States. If both provisions survive intact, it should ease the extremely important process of EU harmonisation of the refugee definition, due to be completed by early 2004.




UNHCR country pages

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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