Berlin's Protestant church of reconciliation | Photo: R. Fuchs/DW
Berlin's Protestant church of reconciliation | Photo: R. Fuchs/DW

Ahead of the International Day of Families, Germany's Protestant and Catholic Churches have called for more support to reunite refugee families and families of those with subsidiary protection in Germany.

"Integration is difficult when the worry about relatives in the first country of arrival or the country of origin is all-dominant," said Karl Jüsten, chief of the Catholic Office Berlin (Commissariat of German bishops).

"It's not uncommon that marriages break apart or family members die" while waiting to be reunited with loved ones, said Martin Dutzmann, representative of the Council of the Protestant Church. The two big German church federations published the appeal in an online statement on Tuesday (May 11).

In the statement, the Churches described families as "precious assets" in which members "continually take responsibility for each other" and where "trust can grow". Since families "need to be protected," Dutzmann said, everything needs to be done to enable family reunifications as fast as possible.

Subsidiary protection, which is a weaker protection form than refugee status, applies when neither refugee protection nor an entitlement to asylum can be granted and serious harm is threatened in the country of origin.

Legal and practical hurdles

Jüsten said it was "incomprehensible" that those with subsidiary protection don't have the right to family reunions like recognized refugees do. "There is no difference between the de facto life situation of refugees and those with subsidiary protection," he said.

Yet according to the statement by the churches, those with subsidiary protection weren't the only ones grappling with legal hurdles. All those entitled to international protection, including recognized refugees, face significant practical difficulties when it comes to family reunification, Jüsten and Dutzmann said.

Among the difficulties were long waiting times at the German embassies and consulates as well as missing or hard to obtain documents, according to the church representatives. The COVID-19 pandemic also severely impeded the subsequent immigration of family members, they said.

In the fall of 2018, the German government had agreed that up to 1,000 people could join their families each month, capping the quota at 12,000 per year. The monthly quota came as a compromise in 2018 after the federal interior minister, Horst Seehofer, had expressed concern that a total of 300,000 family members could potentially join beneficiaries of subsidiary protection in Germany. 

Last year, Germany granted a total of 5,311 relatives of refugees with subsidiary protection visas to come to Germany under the family reunification program -- far fewer than would have been possible by legal means. Part of the slowdown was due to restrictions on travel and foreign office services following the outbreak of the pandemic. In 2019, the number of issued visas was more than twice as high.

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