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Wed. November 29, 2023
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IA Forum Interview: Hans ten Feld (UNHCR, Germany)
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International Affairs Forum: What is UNHCR’s long-term strategy to help refugees entering Germany?

Hans Ten Feld: First and foremost, UNHCR's aim is to ensure that Germany maintains its commitment to the protection of refugees in line with international law, notably the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. This means in particular to observe the principle of “non-refoulement,” i.e., to ensure that persons seeking asylum are not turned back at the border without a proper determination of their need for protection. This is an obligation under international law, for which therefore no upper limits can be set. Moreover, UNHCR encourages Germany to participate in programs of humanitarian admission and resettlement, effectively inviting refugees to come and settle, temporarily or permanently, in Germany. These programs are a humanitarian commitment, and therefore Germany can decide how many people are admitted in this way. Under these programs, family reunification is made possible and, importantly, a solution is offered to vulnerable refugees who cannot find the protection and assistance they need in their country of first asylum, usually a neighboring country. This applies to, for instance, single women and torture victims. Since 2012, Germany has participated in UNHCR's global resettlement program, providing 500 places annually. Germany has furthermore demonstrated a strong humanitarian commitment toward Syrian refugees, providing since 2013 close to 40,000 places under federal and state programs. This facilitated especially the reunification of Syrian refugees already in Germany with close family members who had found initial refuge in Lebanon and other neighboring countries. For neighboring countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, who harbor more than 4 million Syrian refugees, this is a strong signal of solidarity. Far too few countries in the international community have followed Germany's example with the significant numbers that UNHCR has called for. 

International Affairs Forum: The focus of UNHCR’s work in Germany is the administration of legal protection for asylum seekers and refugees. How are asylum applications examined in the registration process for refugees entering Germany?

Hans Ten Feld: Unlike a number of other countries where UNHCR is obliged to undertake registration and examination of asylum claims due to the unwillingness or inability of those particular states to do so, Germany has always taken sovereign responsibility for its obligations under international law. A fair, transparent, and robust system has been established, with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) having the central role to undertake these tasks and thus to ensure that those in need of asylum are granted the required protection. As part of that system, decisions of the BAMF can be appealed before the courts. In Germany, UNHCR exercises its supervisory role under international law by monitoring the process in close contact with all actors, and by recommending corrective measures where and when necessary, notably in legislation and in interpretation of the law. 

International Affairs Forum: What are the current rights given to refugees in Germany? Do broader groups – such as asylum seekers and migrants – differ in their applicable rights?

Hans Ten Feld: The 1951 Refugee Convention is very clear about the rights and obligations of refugees, which should be on an equal footing with nationals of the country of asylum for basic rights like health and education, or alternatively at least on equal footing with other foreigners, e.g., in the case of the right to work. Germany has over time created various types of protection status, the strongest status being linked to political asylum granted on the basis of the German constitution. Lesser statuses are in particular based on ...

Read this rest of the interview and more in the latest issue of  International Affairs Forum, focusing on migration and statelessness, by clicking HERE.

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