Refugees on the move
Refugees on the move

Migrant, refugee, asylum seeker and immigrant: these varied terms have got even experts confused. Here is a list of terms used in Germany in the context of migration.

Who is a migrant?

A migrant is basically anyone who moves to a different place, within his country or outside its borders. Migrants are people who leave their country of their own will. They may not be facing any danger but they move, for example, to improve their quality of life.

Who is a refugee?

Legally, a refugee - as opposed to a migrant - is a person who falls under the category of the Geneva Refugee Convention. According to this, a refugee is someone who has been forced to leave his country because of reasons related to race, religion, nationality, political conventions or membership of a social group. The term "climate refugee" has come up in the last years to describe people fleeing because of climate change, for example, because they cannot live off the agricultural produce in their home country. This is not included in the Geneva Convention.

Who is an asylum applicant?

People, who have applied for asylum, but whose fate has not yet been decided, are known as asylum applicants or asylum seekers. The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) decides whether a person has the right to asylum, whether he receives the status of a refugee or whether he is denied both. Until a decision is made, the applicants can live only in refugee shelters and are not allowed to work initially.

Who is an immigrant?

Immigrants ("Zuwanderer" in German) are all persons who come to Germany, independent of how long they come for and the purpose of their travel. They could immigrate for different reasons: professional, for seeking asylum or for higher education.

"Einwanderer" in German are also immigrants, but officially those who travel to Germany to and plan to stay here for a long time. Both terms, "Zuwanderer" and "Einwanderer" are interchangeably used, but they mean different things. That is why people in Germany are discussing whether their country is a "Zuwanderungsland" - a travel destination for many people - or an "Einwanderungsland" - a country where people immigrate to.

Who has a right to asylum in Germany?

According to the Basic Law, Germany's constitution, politically persecuted people get asylum. A politically persecuted person is someone who is strongly marginalized in his country because of his political convictions that his worth as a human being is destroyed. Emergencies like economic hardships do not qualify a person for asylum. After the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the movement of migrants from the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the basic right to asylum was restricted. Accordingly, political asylum is granted to only those persons not coming from a safe country of origin.

What is a safe country of origin?

A safe country of origin does not persecute its citizens for political reasons and does not implement inhuman or degrading punishment. However, citizens from safe countries cannot be simply deported. Every asylum seeker in Germany must legally get the chance to prove that he is politically threatened in his home country. An asylum request from a person belonging to a safe country is usually rejected unless there are exceptional reasons. In 2017, a debate flared up in Germany with regards to deportation to Afghanistan.

What has changed after the asylum law modifications of 2016?

The asylum process has been accelerated after the introduction of the new laws. Officials have to decide on an asylum application within one week. Upon rejection, deportation takes place within three weeks from the asylum shelter. The governing coalition, including Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, the CDU, and her allies the CSU and the SPD had been clamoring for the laws for a long time.

An important point is that family reunification for families of persons receiving "subsidiary protection" has been completely forbidden for two years. Individuals with subsidiary protection are those who are not recognized as refugees according to the Geneva Convention, but who face a serious threat in their country of origin. And although they cannot bring their families, they themselves cannot be deported.

What happens if an asylum request is rejected?

If an asylum request is rejected in Germany and if the person is not recognized as a refugee, he or she must leave Germany. There is the threat of deportation. An asylum seeker can plead against that. Until the deportation or in case travelling out of Germany is not possible, these individuals receive "a tolerated right to stay." These reasons include sickness, missing documents or the situation in a country. It is also valid for underage adults who have fled unaccompanied by adults.

Who is a quota refugee?

According to paragraph 23 of the German residence act, all refugees coming from a certain country or belonging to a certain group will get a residence permit. Quota refugees therefore enjoy - because of the residence permit issued by the state - an exceptional rule. Quota refugees need not go through the asylum process, but initially cannot choose freely where they wish to live in Germany. Quota refugees are distributed among federal states according to the so-called "Königsteiner key."

The prerequisite for qualifying as a quota refugee could be humanitarian reasons or the "safeguarding of the Federal Republic of Germany's political interests." The federal states or the federal government can decide on such exceptions. Potential candidates can for example, register with the UNHCR or German consulates and receive a residence permit to live and work in Germany.

What does the Dublin process mean?

Every asylum application is not decided in Germany. According to the Dublin regulation the EU country where the asylum seeker first entered the EU is responsible for the asylum process. If this country is known and considered safe, refugees are deported there immediately without further examination and can apply for asylum. The so-called "Dublin-II regulation of 2003" has been attracting more and more critics since 2015, especially since thousands off refugees are waiting in Greece to travel further. They complain that many EU countries use Dublin II to justify not taking in any refugees from Greece.

First published: June 12, 2017

Author: Friedel Taube (dh/sp)

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