Asylum seeker benefits in Germany have not been increased for three years  | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa
Asylum seeker benefits in Germany have not been increased for three years | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa

Who gets more financial support, Germans receiving state benefits or asylum seekers? Some people don't know or may not care, but a lot still think asylum seekers are getting a better deal. InfoMigrants decided it was time to look at the evidence.

I've heard that asylum seekers get about 200 euros more than Hartz IV.
_ Ahmed, 21

There is a persistent myth that asylum seekers get more financial support from the state than "ordinary" citizens. This sometimes leads to resentment and complaints of injustice, but it is actually untrue. There is plenty of proof that social welfare payments to ordinary German citizens, colloquially known as Hartz IV, are higher than benefits paid to asylum seekers.

What social services do asylum seekers receive?

Asylum seekers in Germany are entitled to support under the Asylum Seekers' Benefits Act (Asylberwerberleistungsgesetz, or "AsylbLG"), which came into effect in 1993. In 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled that the basic benefits for asylum seekers under this law were insufficient and therefore it was unconstitutional. "Human dignity should not be relativized in terms of migration policy," the Court said.

Despite the court ruling, the current level of basic benefits under the AsylbLG at €354 per month per single adult is still about 15 percent lower than the amount under Hartz IV, which is €424 euros per month per single adult (as of 01.01.2019). 

For asylum seekers, roughly two thirds (€219) of the maximum entitlement of €354 is for food, rent, clothing, health and personal items. Asylum seekers in reception centers or special accommodation do not receive this portion. The remaining one third (€135) is "pocket money". 

Asylum seekers can only receive state support if they have no income or assets (up to €200 per month is allowed). If an asylum seeker in a reception center has any income or assets, they have to use that money to pay for their accommodation, food and other costs.

Comparison of monthly payments current as of 01012019

There are additional benefits for pregnant women, single parents, and people with disabilities. After 15 months of residence in Germany (sometimes longer), asylum seekers receive the same amount as Hartz IV.

Asylum seekers set to get even less

The German labor minister, Hubertus Heil, has proposed legislation to reduce benefits to asylum seekers. If his bill is passed, single adult asylum seekers will receive €10 per month less from next year. Refugee advocates say the rate for asylum seekers should be higher, not lower. The GGUA, an asylum seeker support group partially funded by the German government, says the amount for a single adult should have gone up to at least €371 this year under the terms of the Asylum Seekers' Benefits Act.

The inadequate level of support asylum seekers receive has led to a significant rise in the number of asylum seekers living below subsistence level, according to the Thuringia Refugee Council.

Germany has a reputation as a generous welfare state  Photo picture-alliancedpaA Warnecke

What is behind the belief that asylum seekers receive more?

While the facts about how much asylum seekers and other people on welfare receive are clear, many people still seem to be confused or ignorant. Yunus, who is 19, told InfoMigrants he thought both groups got the same in the beginning, but after a while the German would get more "because they had been here for longer or been born here."

Another young man, Elias, thought both received the same benefits because "Germany is a very social country." Several others thought that asylum seekers received less than those on Hartz IV, but they weren't sure.

In some cases, the view that asylum seeker benefits are higher than Hartz IV may be based on feelings of social disadvantage and envy, says Benjamin Heinrichs from the German trade union education center Thuringia DGB Bildungswerk Thüringen. "Maybe a person feels that they're not getting enough support from the state and then they look for another group to blame," says Heinrichs, who worked on a project with the group Pro-Asyl aimed at tackling assumptions and prejudices about refugees.

Why do asylum seekers receive less than 'ordinary' citizens?

Muhamad Mustafa, a migrant in Bonn, thinks Germans should get more money than asylum seekers, in other words, he supports the current system. "It's their country and their right," he told InfoMigrants. "We are guests here, and after a while we will leave again. But it's the Germans' country and they should get more money."

The assumption that most people in Germany think the same way as Muhamad is probably what led to the law ensuring that asylum seekers receive lower benefits than "ordinary Germans", says Benjamin Heinrichs. The dominant political view is that equal benefits would result in public resentment and a political backlash.

Equal benefits are currently not under consideration. For some even the present level is too high, and may be cut if the proposed new law is passed. Others in the government, such as Thorsten Frei, a Christian Democrat, also want to reduce benefits for asylum seekers. His reason is that Germany already pays among the highest rates to asylum seekers in Europe. If we made them any higher, he says, "we will be sending the wrong signal to the countries of origin." 

Do welfare benefits create a "major incentive for people to apply for asylum in Germany," as Frei suggests? Benjamin Heinrichs doesn't think so: "These arguments always resurface, but I believe it doesn't make sense. When people flee they leave their life behind and there are different reasons for it and I don't believe these sorts of measures will affect refugee flows or the reasons for flight."

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