Sanctuary for asylum seekers in the St. Pauli church in Hamburg, Germany, 2013 | Photo: A. Heimken/picture-alliance
Sanctuary for asylum seekers in the St. Pauli church in Hamburg, Germany, 2013 | Photo: A. Heimken/picture-alliance

Germany's asylum office has moved away from its restrictive practice against church asylum. The introduced changes pertain to the time limits within which responsibility for an asylum seeker would move to Germany from other EU countries. The obstacles to church asylum had previously been so high that help for hardship cases was made nearly impossible.

Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has changed course in regards to how it deals with church asylum cases, a spokesperson for BAMF confirmed on Thursday (January 14) in a reply to a request by the news agency KNA.

According to BAMF, important changes have been applied to deadlines for transfers in so-called Dublin cases. People sheltering in church asylum now have to stick it out for only six month in order to drop out of the Dublin system. After six month, they no longer qualify to be transferred back to the EU country where they first had claimed asylum.

With the time limit being shortened, the odds of an asylum seeker getting deported are effectively much lower, as the other EU country in such cases will no longer be responsible for people in church asylum after six month, in accordance with the Dublin Regulation.

In other words: asylum seekers can now stay in Germany after spending six months in church asylum.

Germany's "Ökumenische Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Asyl in der Kirche" ("federal ecumenical work group for asylum in the church") welcomed the BAMF decision in an online statement and on Twitter.

Important changes

In 2018, the conference of Germany's interior ministers had extended this period from 6 to 18 months, which rendered providing church asylum all but impossible.

After the extension, the chances of migrants in church asylum receiving protection against deportation had dropped to nearly zero. In 2019, German authorities stopped such deportations on humanitarian grounds in fewer than 2% of cases.

Court ruling against extension

The German state interior ministers in 2018 decided to enact an extension from 6 to 18 months to make it more difficult for people in church asylum to simply sit out those deadlines.

The basis for the extension was a provision of the Dublin Regulation that allowed an extension of the standard time limit if the asylum seeker is deemed "flüchtig" ("on the run").

However, Germany's highest court in June last year ruled that this interpretation was against the law. The ruling argued that people who enjoyed church asylum could not be regarded as "flüchtig" as they were not on the run, and their whereabouts were known to the authorities.

As part of an agreement between the churches and German authorities dating back to 2015, churches have to inform authorities about cases of church asylum and the exact whereabouts of the accommodated person.

'Overdue step'

The BAMF spokesperson said, however, that according to the law, people in church asylum would have to abandon that status if authorities decided that there was no special, individual case of hardship that needed to be evaluated.

"Ökumenische Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Asyl in der Kirche" had called for the implementation of the change since said last year's court ruling. Chairperson Dietlind Jochims, a woman minister in Hamburg, called it an "overdue step."

Read more: German abbess in conflict with the law: 'I have no choice, I have to help'

Strain on churches

The one-sided extension of the deadline for Dublin cases in church asylum had put a strain on parishes, monasteries and religious orders.

Jochims said she hoped for a "return to a solutions-oriented communication on humanitarian hardship cases." She also called for taking back already granted extensions of deadlines in existing church asylum cases.

According to its own information, BAMF received 355 church asylum notifications for 406 persons last year. The highest number of church asylum cases were reported in 2016, when more than 1,000 people, whose official asylum requests had earlier been rejected, sought refuge in German parishes.

with KNA, epd

 

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