From file: Refugees and migrants disembark from the Blue Star Chios ferry at the port of Lavrio, Greece, September 20, 2020 | Photo: EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS
From file: Refugees and migrants disembark from the Blue Star Chios ferry at the port of Lavrio, Greece, September 20, 2020 | Photo: EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has proposed key measures to improve protection for refugees around the world. As a major player in European politics, Germany should step up its efforts, UNHCR says.

UNHCR Germany is calling on political parties to step up their commitment to the Geneva Convention and ensure refugee protection around the world. Family reunification opportunities in particular should be increased, the UN agency urged in a paper published on Wednesday, March 3.

"Germany is a role-model in global refugee protection and holds great credibility as a host country and as one of the most important donors of international aid. It should make use of this power in the face of global challenges in refugee protection in Europe and the world," said Katharina Lumpp, head of UNHCR Germany, in a statement.

Key areas for action

In its paper addressed to political parties in Germany ahead of national elections in September, UNHCR defined four key areas in which Germany should step up refugee protection efforts: through its commitment to international conventions; its role in international politics; its influence on European asylum policy, and; its role as a host country for resettlement and family reunification.

Germany should actively drive reform efforts on a common asylum framework in the EU which has been stalling for years, UNHCR said. A common mechanism is needed to ensure the right to asylum in the bloc and to prevent pushbacks at the border.

"Pushbacks are a clear breach of international law. It's the obligation of all EU states to ensure access to protection. More European states should take on responsibility for those seeking protection and not shift that responsibility on to third countries," said Lumpp.

UNHCR supports the concept of a distribution mechanism based on solidarity between EU members which was proposed in the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum (short: EU migration pact) in September 2020. The plan however also includes proposals for accelerated deportation procedures and pre-entry screening of asylum seekers before they enter the EU.

Positive signals

UNHCR highlighted the positive example that Germany has set in recent years by taking in refugees. However, resettlement programs for vulnerable refugees have stalled due to the pandemic. Germany should continue and expand efforts in this area, UNHCR said.

The number of family reunifications to Germany has also been slowed by the pandemic. However, the bigger problem remains the bureaucratic hurdles that prevent refugees from being reunited with family members, according to UNHCR. Germany should work on reducing red tape and facilitate quicker procedures, it adds. "Integration cannot happen when refugee families have to stay separated for years and they have to fear for their loved ones. Long and complicated procedures are helping no one," Lumpp said.

Long waiting times

In January, the Germany Federal Foreign Office said that at German embassies in Pakistan, Serbia, Albania and Morocco, people wanting to be reunited with family members in Germany can wait more than a year for an appointment. The same goes for Afghans who want to apply for a family reunification visa in Germany from India.

Moreover, a parliamentary inquiry in January revealed that Germany last year granted far fewer family reunifications for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection than would have been possible by legal means. According to a quota system, Germany officially allows 1,000 relatives of refugees with subsidiary protection to come to Germany per month. In the first quarter, the German government issued 1,856 such visas, and only 42 in the second quarter.


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