Iraqi Refugees in Germany

Stripped of Asylum Status

Over three million Iraqis have been forced to leave their country, resulting in the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948. At the same time, the German government has been revoking the asylum status of Iraqi refugees. Beate Hinrichs reports

When Zouhour Mahmoud talks about her two oldest children, tears start to flow. The four-year-old Shams and six-year-old Ahmad live with foster parents in Damascus. Zouhour Mahmoud only has contact with them by telephone. Ahmad talks to her, but Shams doesn't even know her mother any more.

The girl was a little over a year old when she and her brother were left in Damascus. At the time, it was too difficult to take them along while attempting to flee to Germany. The parents intended to fetch them later.

Djafar Abdoun Sattar arrived in Cologne from Kerbala during the regime of Saddam Hussein and was given refugee status. After the arrival of his wife Zouhour, they then applied for permission to reunite the family in Germany. The immigration authorities gave their approval and Djafar Abdoun Sattar flew to Syria to collect his children.

However, the German Embassy in Damascus refused to issue visas for the children on direct instructions from the German Interior Ministry, as Djafar Abdoun Sattar's asylum status had in the meantime been revoked.

No need for asylum after Saddam

The case of the Sattar family is not an isolated incident. Tens of thousands of Iraqis fled their homeland during Saddam's rule and were granted asylum in Germany without any difficulties.

Yet, in 2003, after the fall of the dictator, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) began revoking their asylum status. The stated reason was that the old regime no longer existed and, hence, there was no longer any need for asylum. The political situation in Iraq was deemed to have changed.

Karim Erfan has also had his asylum status revoked. A Kurd from Kirkuk, he was active in the opposition during Saddam's dictatorship and was imprisoned for three years. Since fleeing Iraq, he has lived and worked in Germany and had applied for German citizenship. His application, however, has been put on hold due to the withdrawal of his refugee status.

"I've been here for ten years already," he curses. "I am fully integrated here and want to stay." His friend Saman Abdelgafur Kheder, also from Kirkuk and living in Germany for the last six years, agrees. "I have no contact whatsoever with my family any more. I am afraid to return to Iraq."

Rasul Kawa also complains that there have been a number of recent attacks in his hometown of Mossul. In his case, there is the added complication of a serious auto injury that he suffered two years ago. It left him in a coma for a month followed by numerous operations with more scheduled to come. He still has over forty pins in his legs and shoulders. As a result, he is currently unable to work.

Deportation to Northern Iraq

The situation in Iraq is approaching that of a civil war from which some 50,000 people are fleeing each month. According to the Geneva Convention on Refugees, EU guidelines, and the recommendation of the UN High Commission for Refugees, those affected by the situation must continue to enjoy sanctuary in Germany.

The German Conference of Interior Ministers, however, refuses to recognize the violence in Iraq as a valid reason for being a refugee and the German government has already occasionally deported single men to northern Iraq. Currently, only certain revocations of asylum status have been deferred, such as those for Iraqi Christians and Yazidis.

Karim Erfan represents the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees and criticizes Germany for being the only European country engaged in revoking asylum status. Bernd Mesovic from the refugee support organization Pro Asyl also stresses this point and adds, "Germany is pursuing an unconstrained, irresponsible policy."

Since 2003, around 18,000 Iraqis have had their asylum status revoked. Once the decision becomes effective, they are eligible for deportation. Due to the security situation in Iraq, particularly in the greater Baghdad area, no deportations are currently possible and most of these refugees are legally tolerated in Germany.

Degraded from taxpayers to welfare recipients

The degree of this tolerance depends on individual federal states. This can mean losing one's work permit or only being allowed to perform jobs that no German or EU citizen will accept. Their children are not subject to compulsory education. Their freedom of movement can also be curtailed.

Yassir Frayje advises numerous Iraqis at a consultation center. He complains that these people, who in many cases have worked for years in Germany, have been degraded from being taxpayers to welfare recipients by being assigned tolerated status.

Pro Asyl regards the revoking process as a "massive work creation program" that the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is pursuing "in its own interest." Yassir Frayje also suspects a connection with the sinking numbers of refugee claimants. Instead of the 200,000 cases of a few years ago, the BAMF staff are now only processing 20,000 applications a year and simply want to hold on to their jobs.

Djafar Abdoun Sattar, the father of Ahmad and Shams, can now only hope that some BAMF administrator will use the latitude at their disposal and allow the children to be rejoined with their parents on humanitarian grounds.

Beate Hinrichs

© 2007

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

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