From file: This Catholic church in the state of Baden-Württemberg provided church asylum for an Iranian refugee family | Photo: Imago / EPD Heike Lyding
From file: This Catholic church in the state of Baden-Württemberg provided church asylum for an Iranian refugee family | Photo: Imago / EPD Heike Lyding

The number of cases of church asylum has been on the rise in Berlin in recent months. The German capital has a long history of hosting people seeking protection in churches.

There were 37 cases of church asylum registered in Berlin parishes, resulting in a total of 63 people seeking this unusual kind of protection, at the end of December 2022. This includes 17 children.

(Families or couples seeking church asylum together are usually counted as one case.)

Previously, the overall number of church asylum cases in the capital city had declined from 36 in January 2021 (affecting 73 people) to 17 (affecting 21 people) in June 2022.

More than just a capital city

Berlin is Germany’s biggest city and capital, as well as a federal state in its own right. In the surrounding state of Brandenburg, which shares certain responsibilities and services with Berlin, the trend however went in the opposite direction.

There were a total of twelve instances of church asylums affecting 17 people in Brandenburg at the end of 2022, with three of them children. A year earlier, there had been 23 church asylum cases with 42 people in total, with 15 of them children.

These numbers are according to the Asylum in the Church Berlin-Brandenburg association (Verein Asyl in der Kirche Berlin-Brandenburg).

Read more: Germany: Government opposes easing of church asylum rules

Dublin cases: a difficult decision

All the present instances of church asylum in Berlin are so-called Dublin cases, which means that those affected face deportation to the EU country in which they first registered or applied for asylum.

For a variety of reasons, asylum seekers may not want to return to those countries. Some might feel that they face secondary persecution there, or may have experienced xenophobia and discrimination in the country.

Others have managed to live in Germany for so long that they have established new lives for themselves, with their children being fully integrated at school and fluent in the new language.

Read more: Church asylum: Nun acquitted in Germany

Across Germany, there were a total of 320 cases of church asylum recorded at the beginning of December 2022, according to the Ecumenical Federal Working Group on Church Asylum (Ökumenischer Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Kirchenasyl). 

These cases were said to affect a total of 516 people, with 115 children counted among them.

Read more: Refugee helpers soldier on despite rise in conflict and migration

Church asylum: no-man's land in asylum cases

Through church asylum, refugees without a legal residence status are temporarily housed and given food in buildings belonging to church congregations. The aim is to prevent imminent deportation to a dangerous or socially unacceptable situation, while the case is being re-examined.

While technically illegal, there is an understanding between authorities and church leaders that the police won't enter the premises of such a church until every last legal avenue for the affected asylum seekers has been explored. In return, church officials won't stand in the way if a case is deemed hopeless, and a final deportation decision is issued.

The first church asylum case in the Federal Republic took place in 1983. At that time, a Palestinian family threatened with deportation found shelter in West Berlin in the Lutheran Heilig Kreuz parish in the Kreuzberg district.

Read more: Blind Syrian granted asylum, is allowed to stay in Germany

with EPD


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