Reuniting with familiy members can be an important step towards integration, many argue
Reuniting with familiy members can be an important step towards integration, many argue

The right to family reunification for refugees with subsidiary protection status has become a topic of heated debate in German politics. Ministers are demanding to further suspend the moratorium after March 2018. Who is affected and what implications will this have?

Family reunification of refugees with subsidiary protection should be permanently suspended, Bavaria’s conservative Prime Minister Horst Seehofer told the German daily newspaper Bild on Tuesday. He said it was a “mistake to grant reunification to refugees who are not allowed to stay permanently”.

Seehofer warned of a rise in ghettos in Germany, arguing that the social fabric could further deteriorate if family reunification were to be granted to hundred of thousands of refugees next year. In March 2018, the imposed freeze on the right to family reunification for subsidiary protected refugees will end. According to media reports by the Bild, an estimated 390,000 Syrian refugees would be entitled to formally apply for reunification. This figure, however, was not confirmed by authorities.

While Chancellor Angela Merkel has not commented on the issue yet, Interior Minister Thomas DeMaiziere had been the one to bring the issue up for discussion in August. Seehofer implied that a permanent suspension will be implemented should the governing CDU/CSU coalition win in the upcoming General Election.

What does the right entail and how is it regulated?

Family reunification in principle is granted to foreigners who want to reunite with their spouses, their children or other relatives in their new country of residence. The regulations and procedures vary from country to country, and even within the European Union, each country can decide according to specific guidelines. However, there are common rules in 25 EU member states, put forth in the 2003 Directive on the right to family reunification (

The EU Council Directive states: “Family reunification is a necessary way of making family life possible. It helps to create sociocultural stability facilitating the integration of third country nationals in the Member State, which also serves to promote economic and social cohesion, a fundamental Community objective stated in the Treaty.” 

There are important distinctions to be made. Different conditions apply to EU nationals, third-country citizens residing legally in an EU country and refugees with different protection status'. Some member states, for example, require the third-country sponsor to have adequate accommodation, sufficient resources, and health insurance before they can reunite with relatives. Family members must in some cases provide proof of sufficient language skills as part of the application process.

Special conditions for vulnerable groups

For refugees, less imposing requirements apply. They are based on a 2011 Directive by the European Commission (2011/95/EU) which defines the norms and regulation for the recognition of refugees and stateless persons. According to this directive, refugees with subsidiary protection are entitled to the same rights as fully recognized refugees when it comes to family reunification. This despite the fact that subsidiary protection only allows for temporary residence and a return or a deportation of the refugee might still follow.

In Germany, the Residence Act regulates procedures of family reunification. An amendment to the Residence Act in January 2015 enacted facilitated family reunification procedures for refugees with subsidiary protection.

Suspension due to refugee influx

Soon after in February 2016, however, the German Parliament approved the Asylpaket II, a set of measures to speed up asylum proceedings and regulate migration flow of the great refugee influx that had started in 2015. The suspension of family reunification for persons with subsidiary protection was one as part of the Asylpaket II. The suspension went into effect in March 2016, set to run until March 2018. The two-year waiting time meant that sponsors have to wait until March 2018 to be able to apply for reunification.

How many people are affected?

The majority of refugees affected by the suspension of 2016 are Syrian refugees because they were the largest contingents in 2015 and 2016 in terms of asylum applicants. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, 476,649 applications for asylum were filed in Germany in 2015. Of those, 162,510 were from Syria. A total of 1,707 people were granted subsidiary protection (0.6 percent of overall applications).

In 2016, there were 745,545 asylum applications , 268,886 from Syria. A total of 153,700 persons were granted subsidiary protection, that’s 22.1 percent. 41.2 percent of Syrians who applied for asylum received subsidiary protection.

In the first half of 2017 (January – June), a total of 69,921 persons were granted subsidiary protection (17.1 percent of applications overall).

Added together, a total of 225,328 people would be eligible to apply for reunification in March 2018 in addition to the number of people who will be granted subsidiary protection from July 2017- March 2018. However, many people are not pursuing reunification or might not have family members who could follow to Germany. The actual number of people who might legally enter Germany in 2018 in case the moratorium ends according to plan is therefore only speculative.

For supporters of family reunification in Germany, making the process possible for subsidiary protected refugees is a key factor for integration. NGOs and charities, as well as social democratic and left-wing politicians, reiterate the importance of the family for social cohesion.


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