Back Germany should advance protection of asylum seekers and improve response to racism and extremism

Visit to Germany
Strasbourg 11/05/2015
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“Germany has done a lot in the field of asylum in recent years, including launching three humanitarian admission programmes for Syrian refugees (concerning 20 000 individuals) and registering more than 200 000 asylum applications in 2014. However, with an estimate of 400 000 asylum applications for this year, a number of important challenges lie ahead”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, today, following a six-day visit to Germany which focused on the human rights of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants, but also on the fight against racism and extremism and on the legal and institutional framework for the protection and promotion of human rights.

“These challenges include difficulties in some cases to have an asylum claim registered, long delays in asylum proceedings, and an integration process hampered by the lack of formal language courses. The access of asylum seekers to health care also remains problematic in a number of Länder”, he said. The Commissioner welcomed the recent decision of the government to increase the number of staff at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). However, he drew the authorities’ attention to the need to ensure that the reception centres for asylum seekers are also adequately staffed. During the visit, the Commissioner visited four such centres, in Karlsruhe and Berlin. He was impressed by the commitment and professionalism of the staff, but also by the support provided by the local population through in-kind donations and volunteer efforts. However, he was also seriously concerned at clear signs that intolerance is on the rise in the country, as reflected in an upsurge of attacks against facilities for asylum seekers and in regular demonstrations against a supposed “Islamisation” of Germany and Europe.

The visit to Germany was also an opportunity for the Commissioner to further his assessment of the human rights impact of the European asylum system on the ground. Noting the figures on returns of asylum seekers to and from Germany under the Dublin regulations he said: “Not only is the Dublin system problematic for the protection of human rights, it is also a broken system which is artificially being kept alive”. He called on the German authorities to take the lead for a much needed European re-thinking of the system for assigning responsibilities for providing protection to asylum seekers based on full respect for their human rights and genuine solidarity between states.

With regard to the fight against racism and extremism, particular focus was given to the follow-up to the National Socialist Underground (NSU) affair, which exposed clear institutional bias and other serious deficiencies among the police and security services in dealing with racially motivated crime. “I am concerned that thus far changes appear to have remained limited, with the creation of a new center focusing on right-wing, left-wing, and nationalist violent extremism, new databases and the promise of more diversity in the police”. Noting in particular the focus on crimes committed by extremist groups, the Commissioner urged the German authorities to take the opportunity of the ongoing reform to improve their response to racially motivated crimes generally. “Only a part of racially motivated crimes is committed by members of organised extremist groups and the criminal justice system must be able to respond professionally to all such crimes”. In this connection, the Commissioner welcomed the amendment to the Criminal Code allowing for the racist motivation of offences to be taken into account in sentencing. However, much more concrete work was needed, including mandatory guidelines for police and prosecutors and specialised training for judges.

As part of his focus on the institutional and legal framework for the protection and promotion of human rights, the Commissioner examined the effectiveness of the German oversight system of intelligence and security services, a topical issue in both Germany and Europe following recent revelations exposing both human rights violations and widespread disregard for the rule of law. In the Commissioner’s view, the parliamentary oversight currently operated by the Parliamentary Control Panel must be bolstered by considerably strengthening its support staff and the latter’s technical expertise. The question of surveillance operated by the German intelligence services over non-German citizens outside of Germany also remains open. According to the Commissioner, “Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, guaranteeing the right to private life, applies to all activities of the states that are party to this convention, including all its national security and intelligence activities”.

Finally, Commissioner Muižnieks expressed concern that a number of institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights in Germany currently have inadequate means and powers available to them and/or are not sufficiently independent. While it is positive that the German Institute for Human Rights will soon have a legal basis, this institution, the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency and the National Agency for the Prevention of Torture are in need of considerable strengthening to ensure they can fulfil their mandates effectively.

The Commissioner's report on his visit to Germany is forthcoming.