A high number of newly arrived asylum seekers within a short period of time placed a huge burden on established administrative structures - what measures did Germany take in response?
A high number of newly arrived asylum seekers within a short period of time placed a huge burden on established administrative structures - what measures did Germany take in response?

When large waves of migration occur, governments have to take measures to ensure the integrity of their immigration and integration processes. The European Migration Network (EMN) has released a report on key developments that took place in response to the major refugee influx in Germany between 2014 and 2016.

The report takes Germany as a case study to highlight the kind of changes that occur when migration numbers skyrocket. Germany is estimated to have taken in 1.5 million refugees and migrants between 2014 and 2016, pushing its administrative structures to the limit.

The EWN study, penned by migration researcher Janne Grote, documents a list of 100 measures taken by the German government concerning refugee policies in the given time frame, which were initiated on a national level, but also in relation to other EU member states and third-countries.

The latter include major turning points in the management of the so-called refugee crisis, such as the closure of the Balkan route, the refugee deal between the EU and Turkey, the EU relocation and resettlement programs, as well as greater cooperation among EU Member States  — especially with regards to the EU's Frontex border agency.

However, it's the kind of measures taken on the national level that give the most insight into the dynamics of migration and the necessary responses. They also provide insights on how to be better prepared for future peaks in migration flows. The 92-page report looks at eight key areas where adjustments and changes occurred in response to the refugee influx. Some of the major developments are examined below.

Refugees on the Austrian border

Border control

The report lists a series of measures taken along Germany’s various borders, such as the reintroduction of border controls along the German-Austrian border, limiting the number of asylum seekers crossing official land borders to 50 per hour, and the introduction of border controls at certain train stations for trains traveling between Austria and Germany. These were some of the earlier responses to the refugee influx.

Other measures include the repeated state-level deployment of riot police to carry out internal border controls within Germany. The report suggests that future peaks in migration might result in similar measures being taken.

Reception centers/accommodation arrangements and other housing

One of the other main areas of focus in the study was the immediate reception of migrants and refugees. The large number of arrivals meant that the country was unprepared to house so many people. It stresses the importance of initiatives taken by local communities and charities to assist authorities in addressing this particular challenge, but also highlights a list of legal changes that should make future reception easier to organize.

The report highlight the reforms of, and amendments to, construction planning laws to facilitate the accommodation of refugees. The report says that in the future, it will be easier for the government to facilitate accommodating migrants and refugees in industrial estates and undeveloped areas. Hundreds of emergency accommodation facilities were developed and set up as a result of these legal changes, including in empty barracks, warehouses, aircraft hangars, and former department stores.

It also emphasizes the importance of greater cooperation among various states that has arisen as a result of the refugee crisis, whereby the distribution of refugees is now better coordinated between the federal government and the states. A number of legislative changes also facilitated the distribution of unaccompanied minor refugees, allowing them to find homes more quickly.

Wider reception services

The study once again stresses the value and importance of volunteers helping refugees. This includes assisting with initial reception facilities and providing initial care, from clothing to food and toiletries. It highlights changes that had to occur in healthcare services, which initially had to be provided on a voluntary basis by physicians in the vicinity of emergency accommodation facilities. These services were later expanded to include, on a temporary basis, asylum seekers who could prove that they had undergone medical training. The report says that the latter measure was of major importance in ensuring the delivery of medical care.

 Volunteers greeted incoming refugees in autumn 2015.

Other changes that took place included issuing electronic health cards for asylum seekers. This was due to another legislative amendment and enabled those with an active asylum procedure to freely use medical facilities.

The report outlines other reception services that had to be introduced, such as information brochures and apps that could provide information to migrants in multiple languages about what steps they may need to take upon their arrival.

Registration process of the asylum seeker

To ease the pressure on authorities who were facing a major backlog of asylum applications after the influx at the height of the refugee crisis, a number of legislative change were introduced between 2014 and 2015. 

These included major updates to the electronic assessment of asylum applications, in particular measures to facilitate data sharing between authorities at all levels. The introduction of a number of additional nationwide processing centers also helped to speed up the application processes. However, many applicants continue to complain about the slow speed of the refugee application process. In addition to personal data, authorities also ensure that biometric information, such as fingerprints and facial scans, are taken into account.

Initial reception center in Passau

Greater cooperation between administrative authorities dealing with asylum applications and law enforcement has also helped in speeding up applications and ensuring legitimate claims. Meanwhile, the maximum length of time asylum seekers could be obliged to stay in initial reception centers was extended from three to six months to alleviate the pressure to process applications more quickly.

Asylum procedure

Changes to the asylum procedure itself were a cornerstone of Germany’s response to the refugee crisis. Thousands of new employees were recruited to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) to ensure a closer integration of the arrival and registration process, asylum procedures and decisions regarding integration and returns.

The issue of safe countries of origin was revisited and reassessed, resulting in the exclusion of some nationalities, while a so-called "simplified asylum procedure" helped certain asylum seekers facing serious persecution to have their processes expedited. A key development in dealing with asylum applications has always been the language barrier, which – according to the report – has been eased with the introduction of video interpreting, as well as an enlargement of the pool of available translators.

Infrastructure, personnel and competencies

New branches of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) were introduced across the country to build an infrastructure network of services in order to address the needs of refugees and migrants. From 25 branches in early 2014, the BAMF network grew to more than 140 offices in 80 locations by the end of 2016. This was a direct response to the steep increase in the number of migrants.

In addition to hiring thousands of new staff, BAMF also benefited from the addition of several thousand employees who were seconded from other ministries. Public authorities and civil servants of formerly state-owned companies either worked for BAMF temporarily, or were transferred on a permanent basis from other departments.

Applying for asylum: the hearing with a decision-maker at the BAMF

A wave of recruitment also began at regional and local levels. This took place in schools, at administrative courts, youth welfare offices, at integration and language course providers and asylum and social advisory agencies throughout Germany. The result was that thousands of new positions were created to manage the refugees and migrants coming to the country.

There was also a sharp increase in employment opportunities outside official government circles. Charitable associations nationwide had to hire thousands of new staff in areas such as social work, housing support, youth welfare service and psychosocial counseling services.

Law enforcement

The migrant influx presented law enforcement challenges, which meant that changes had to be implemented in policing and intelligence gathering. New cadets were hired by both local and federal police forces, while intelligence services stepped up their monitoring of extremist (in particular Islamist) activities among refugees.

Measures were also taken to counter radicalization among migrants, such as the introduction of the "Counselling Center Radicalization" project by the BAMF. But other forms of radicalization are also being addressed: The government has been strengthening and financing prevention programs against right-wing violence in certain locations, while also creating more jobs at victim advice centers against right-wing extremism.

Integration measures for asylum applicants

In addition to all other measures which merely address the management of asylum seekers, integration efforts have had to be dramatically stepped up in order to help the new arrivals feel more welcome in Germany. The study says that from the beginning, integration courses were launched for asylum seekers with good prospects of remaining in Germany. Specialized German language courses were also introduced to help asylum seekers put together good job applications and enter the workforce. Unfortunately, the report also mentions that the language courses on offer were rarely successful in equipping asylum seekers with enough linguistic skills to become fluent in German, mainly due to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the students.

worker in a Company for Crafts

In order to assist asylum seekers to find jobs, a number of legislative changes were introduced in late 2015, such as allowing earlier access to the labor market. Skilled workers who had been issued with a residence permit were then allowed to work as temporary agency workers after three months, and unskilled workers were permitted to take up employment after 15 months.

The report is available in English and German. You can download it here.


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