The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has issued instructions saying it will no longer be adhering to the Dublin procedure for Syrians, meaning that the country will now deal with asylum claims from Syrian nationals itself rather than deporting the refugees.
It's an important change for the country and one that could have big implications across Europe. The Dublin procedure refers to decades-old European Union regulations which determine which country is responsible for asylum seekers. The regulation usually requires asylum seekers to apply for asylum in the first E.U. country they reach. It also allows other E.U. countries to deport asylum seekers back to that country.
In theory, the Dublin procedure should stop refugees from seeking asylum in multiple countries, sometimes referred to as "asylum shopping." In practice, however, it has meant responsibility for migrants often fell disproportionately on countries such as Italy or Greece where migrants first arrived. Often, migrants have been allowed to travel further into Europe, where border controls are limited due to the Schengen agreement.
44,417 Syrians have applied for asylum in Germany in the first seven months of this year. For many if not most of that number, Germany would not have been the first European country that they arrived in, and the Dublin procedure would have allowed them to be deported. This week's decision means that all planned deportations have been cancelled. “Germany will become the member state responsible for processing their claims,” a government statement on the matter said, according to the Independent.
Christoph Sander, a spokesperson for the BAMF, told the Associated Press that the new guidance isn't legally binding and that only 131 Syrians had been deported between January and June anyway, while Johannes Dimroth, a spokesperson for German Interior Ministry, explained to the Wall Street Journal that the Dublin procedure had been inefficient and resulted in too much paperwork. The legislation has "sovereignty clause" that allows a state to voluntarily take responsibility for asylum seekers it is not otherwise required to.
Germany's decision to suspend the Dublin procedure appears to be unique. “This is only the one that we are aware of among the member states at this moment," the European Commission said Tuesday. However, the decision comes at a time of increased scrutiny about how Europe's so-called migrant crisis is placing more pressure on poorer gateway countries like Greece than countries like Germany – countries which are often migrants' intended destination. As far back as 2013, the United Nations refugee agency had requested that European nations not return all of those seeking asylum to their original point of entry to the E.U. "in an effort to demonstrate a measure of solidarity with these E.U. border countries."
Earlier this summer, Hungary, a country that is a point of entry for many of migrants traveling to the E.U., has briefly attempted to skirt the obligations placed on it by the Dublin procedure. "The reality is the Dublin system is dead," Peter Sutherland, the U.N.'s migration chief, told Britain's Channel 4 News on Monday.
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Correction: A previous version of this post originally said that Hungary had attempted to change its laws to skirt the obligations placed on it by the Dublin procedure. It has been amended to show that Hungary in fact suspended its participation in the Dublin procedure but did not change any laws.