By Lisa Urlbauer

Pro Asyl is a human rights organization that advocates for protection of refugees and migrants in Germany and Europe. It was founded in 1986 to support asylum seekers, research human rights’ violations, and work toward a more open society. Orange has spoken with Günter Burkhardt, co-founder and executive director of the organization.  We talked about migration policies and refugee family reunions as a foundation for humanitarian society.

Individual cases impact the masses

The individual case counts.” This is PRO ASYL’s motto, which also describes its main tasks.  The organization is funded through its legal assistance fund; it advises and supports refugees and their relatives during the asylum procedure – for example, when the official bodies doubt reasons of persecution or ignore reports on violence and torture. On average, PRO ASYL supports five thousand individual cases every year, sometimes even to the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). According to PRO ASYL, certain individual cases have a large impact on the asylum procedure of others. For example, in 2011, the ECHR stopped deportations to Greece based on the research of PRO ASYL since the deportations violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, this also means that negative individual cases impact other people seeking protection. “The question whether individuals could be send back to Afghanistan impacts the masses,” Burkhard explains, “Integration is obstructed when people live in fear of being deported soon. The fear does not only influence individuals, but entire groups.”

Advocating for a fair asylum procedure

In 2005, PRO ASYL alongside other human rights and professional organizations signed “Memorandum regarding the current situation of German asylum procedure”. The signing organizations leveled criticism, especially against the treatment of asylum applications and the quality of hearings as well as decision-making of granting asylum. Almost ten years after the publication, the alliance notes little improvement.

Rushing into decision-making in the asylum procedure

Many of the current challenges have already existed in 2005 showing some structural defects in German asylum procedure regardless of the numbers of applications. The work overload at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees only strengthened the challenges. “Although we endorse faster processing of asylum procedures, promptness cannot exceed quality”, says Burkhardt.

The memorandum his organization supported states four problem areas that need to be improved. They include: information for asylum seekers, the hearing, the decision-making process, and questions regarding the procedure.

Protection of family is rooted in the constitution

Besides better execution of asylum procedure, Burkhardt advocates for family reunions. According to him, this is not a short-term political claim, but rather the foundation of a humanitarian society based on human rights. “The question, what the general foundation of our society is, has been answered with the constitution,” Burkhardt says. He points out to the Article Six, which protects marriage and family. “If we are living in an immigration society, reunifying refugees with their families has to be a part of it,” Burkhard concludes.

However, since March 2016, reunifying has become more difficult: German Parliament passed a bill on “The introduction of an expedited asylum procedure”. In short, it is the so-called second asylum package, which – among other things – suspends family reunions for people with a subsidiary protection for two years until March 2018. PRO ASYL and other human rights and refugee organizations had strongly criticized the law.

Individual cases underline quality defects

Between January and September of 2016, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees decided on 462.314 asylum procedures. In its memorandum, PRO ASYL documented individual cases showing quality defects during the asylum procedure. In July 2016, a single mother with young children applied for a refugee status. It was denied, and she only received subsidiary protection. The woman fled Syria with her children after her husband was shot by a sniper of the Assad-Regime because he was filming a demonstration to publish on social media. Afterwards, secret service asked neighbors and family members about her whereabouts forcing her to leave Syria. She was refused refugee status by the officials because they did not see a concrete persecution of herself and her children. However, the Federal Office did not demand any further details during the hearing although the lack of evidence was the main reason for refugee denial. PRO ASYL points out that due to her fear of being sanctioned for her husband’s political involvement by the Assad regime, she should have been granted a refugee status.

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