More “safe countries of origin” and fewer family reunions – Germany’s new asylum law
Against the backdrop of ongoing high numbers of refugees arriving on German territory, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s (CDU) government of Christian and Social Democrats has shifted its asylum policies and is set to implement significantly tighter laws intended to curb migration into Germany. The stricter stance on the refugee issue is a reaction to the growing discontent with Merkel’s immigration policy among German population. It can also be seen as a reaction to increasing poll numbers of the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) which is expected to gain a massive share of the vote in the upcoming elections in three federal states.
The principal measures of the new asylum legislation will include placing Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia on a list of so-called “safe countries of origin”. In the future migrants from these countries would thus have very little chance of being granted asylum in Germany. The new law is furthermore expected to accelerate asylum procedures in general. Politicians from across the spectrum have for a long time lamented processing asylum applications was lacking efficiency. Currently, many asylum procedures take up to a month to get started, with an extra five months to be processed.
The most controversial part of Germany’s new asylum policies are plans to suspend family reunification for two years affecting people with “subsidiary protection” – migrants with no protection under the Geneva Convention. This cohort may also include minors arriving on German soil on their own. If considered a person with “subsidiary protection”, they could only count on being reunified with their parents if “humanitarian reasons” such as suffering from diseases were established. The issue had even caused internal bickering especially within the co-governing Social Democrats (SPD).
Günter Krings from the governing Christian Democrats, who serves as State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, said the planned measures intended to limit family reunification were “responsible”. He said this would prevent people from sending “their children alone on a potentially fatal journey.” Legal experts, however, expressed doubts over the measures’ validity. Astrid Wallrabenstein, professor of law at the University of Frankfurt, said the issue of family reunification had been “rushed”. She stated the new policy was irreconcilable with the German constitutional law as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. Other critics – such as Bernd Riexinger, co-leader of the Left Party – mainly scolded the plans to declare Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia “safe countries of origin”.
Despite these controversies, the new asylum legislation may come into force by the end of the month. The final vote in the German parliament, the Bundestag, is expected to be held on February 25.
“The use of armed force is there as a last resort” – AfD and its aggressive rhetoric
Facing a total of five parliamentary elections in German federal states in 2016, the right-wing populist party AfD (Alternative for Germany) is anticipating a series of victories. Since last summer the party has steadily shifted its ideology to the right and has helped implement substantially more aggressive input in Germany’s debate over how to deal with thousands of migrants knocking on the country’s doors each week. Overall, the party has thus far clearly benefitted from the crisis despite tolerating bluntly racist remarks by some of its members.
The party’s most recent contributions to the debate, though, have courted more controversy than ever before. Interviewed by a regional newspaper, Frauke Petry, AfD’s co-leader, insisted German border police officers should be allowed to shoot at refugees attempting to enter the country illegally. “If necessary, the police should use firearms,” Petry said. “I don’t want this, but the use of armed force is there as a last resort.” Beatrix von Storch, another senior member of AfD, uttered similar comments soon after even though she later backpedalled on the use of armed force against refugee children.
Politicians from both the government as well as the opposition parties severely condemned these remarks. Thomas Oppermann, Chief Whip of the Social Democrats in the Bundestag, remarked that “the last German politician who condoned the shooting of refugees was Erich Honecker” – formerly head of state of the German Democratic Republic, a socialist dictatorship in East Germany. Konstantin von Notz from the Green Party said Petry’s comments were deeply “irresponsible” and furthermore fuelled motivation for “right-wing terrorism”.
Moreover, Jörg Radek, head of the police union GdP (Gewerkschaft der Polizei), made clear the use of guns against unarmed refugees was against German law. He said AfD politicians were trying to exploit the German police. “We have already seen that over the course of German history and we don’t ever want to go down that road again.” Recent polls revealed 11 per cent nationwide support for AfD which would make the party the third strongest in parliament. Amid growing dissatisfaction of Germans with Angela Merkel’s handling of the refugee challenge, it remains to be seen whether Frauke Petry comments will jeopardize her party’s rise in popularity.
Surprise victories in tennis and handball spark hopes for far-reaching sports boom
While men’s football has for uncounted years been by far the most popular as well as financially potent sport in Germany – with the member clubs of the top league, the Bundesliga, enjoying a combined annual turnover of 2.62 billion euros – other sports disciplines have for a long time struggled with gaining notable attention from a wide audience.
The last weekend in January, however, proved to be among the most successful in the recent history of German sports. Angelique Kerber, Germany’s highest-ranked female tennis player, claimed her first grand slam title by beating the world No. 1 Serena Williams at the Australian Open, followed by German handball fans witnessing the national team’s stunning victory at the European Championship in Poland. Both triumphs, though, came as a remarkable surprise and stirred substantial emotions among sports fans in the Federal Republic.
In Melbourne, 28-year-old Angelique Kerber had kicked off the tournament with a narrowly earned victory in the first round in which she even had to save a match point. Yet over the following 12 days, the Bremen-born left-handed player made steady improvements and eventually advanced to her first grand slam final. Even though Williams, the world’s top player in female tennis for years, entered the court as heavy favourite, Kerber fought her way through and beat the American superstar 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
With Kerber’s surprising but well-deserved victory in southern Australia, there are hopes for a renewed tennis boom in the Federal Republic. Since Boris Becker and Steffi Graf, Germany’s most renowned tennis icons, had both retired in 1999, German tennis has been on the skids. Significant victories on the court have been rare, TV coverage has declined. As a result, fewer children have since decided to play tennis which led to a meaningful shortage in gifted young players willing to pursue a professional tennis career. Experts now hope Kerber’s victory will help reverse this trend and make tennis more attractive to young people.
While Australian Open champion Kerber was preparing for her return flight to Germany, the Polish city of Krakow became the venue of the handball national team’s most significant success since securing the World Championship title in 2007. Having started the tournament as a clear underdog and losing their opening game to Spain, the German team of little known youngsters then launched a winning streak that would path their road straight towards the final. That game made Germany meet with Spain once again. This time, though, there was little doubt about the winner as the German team – coached by Iceland-born Dagur Sigurdsson – fully dominated the match right from the start and won the European trophy with a 24-17 victory. Best player of the team was once again goalkeeper Andreas Wolff.
Similar to the situation German tennis has faced during recent years, handball aficionados have for a long time bemoaned there were not enough young people devoting their leisure time to this sport. One key reason the German Handball Association has identified is the high physical strain for professional players primarily due to a disproportionately high number of games per season. As a consequence, handball clubs might soon be allowed to extend their squads in order to grant their players more breaks during the season. There are furthermore debates over the reduction of international games.
As for the recruitment of new talents on the local level, German handball officials are hoping for an inspirational effect sparked by the national team’s European triumph. They called on regional and local clubs to promote handball more avidly, but they also hope there will be more handball lessons offered in schools in the near future.