At least I expect honesty.

(Deutsche Version)

Open letter to Helge Lindh, parlamentarian of Bundestag, former Chairman of the Integration Council in Wuppertal, on extending the suspension of family reunification for refugees with subsidiary protection. By Judith Welkmann

Dear Helge Lindh,

I am addressing you – not as a member of the Social Democrats, since I am really not negatively surprised about the SPD any more. I write to you as a person from Wuppertal who is, like me, committed to work with refugees and who maintains close contact with many people who have been directly and negatively been affected by the tighter legislation of the recent years.

Now there is the suspension of family reunification for refugees with subsidiary protection. With the votes of the SPD-parlamentarians. Ten of them voted against it – you were not among this ten.

In your „Personal Statement on the roll-call vote„, you write that you are going to meet with a Syrian family that has been given subsidiary protection and which is currently worried about their son (who has been left behind in Syria) this afternoon, the same time, I am writing these lines. You were probably right to say that this family isn’t particularly interested in the intricacies of the legislative process.

However, for the sake of honesty, if you are trying to justify your voting behaviour towards this family, you shouldn’t conceal the following aspects:

1. If there had been no change in the law, the suspension of family reunification would have expired on March 16 this year, as it was decided originally. The Syrian family, like thousands of others, would have had a legal right to reunite with their son. If the SPD had refused to approve the CDU/CSU’s bill, the CDU and CSU would have had to look for other majorities. You say that the bill would then have been drafted with the votes of AfD and FDP. I believe that this should have been risked: On the one hand, the CDU then would have had to consider whether it really wanted to pass its first law of the parliamentary term together with the right-wing party. And the AfD, too, would certainly have found it difficult to vote with the hated party of Merkel only four months after entering the parliament. And still it wouldn’t have been enough for a majority without the votes of Liberals… Well, and even if this would have had worked, at least the fronts would have been cleared.

2. As the draft law has been formulated, the envisaged quota system of a maximum of 1,000 visas per month does not change the current state of disaster at all, even from August 2018 onwards. On the contrary: the legal right to family reunification is explicitly and definitively suspended for subsidiary protected refugees. This former right will be replaced by a just optional provision: „From August 1st 2018 may be granted a residence permit for humanitarian reasons to the spouse or the unmarried minor child of a foreign national who has been granted a residence permit in accordance with § 25 (2), and to the parents of a minor foreign national who has been granted a residence permit in accordance with § 25 (2), until the number of residence permits issued in accordance with this provision has reached the amount of 1 000 per month.“

So there is an upper limit, but no lower limit. This optional wording is, btw, the same that is used for the Humanitarian Paragraph 22 Residence Act. And, as it is well known, this enabled a total of just 66 subsequent reunifications last year (up to December 4).

The CDU already has made a mockery of the SPD during the debate on the suspension of family reunification by referring to the small number of people entitled to subsidiary protection, and then subsequently changing the recognition practice in such a way that tens of thousands are affected now. The fact that the SPD is once again willing to let itself be fooled is the one thing – but it makes me angry when you, in all seriousness, sell such disgusting laws as the best possible compromise to the affected refugees. The purely hypothetical possibility for 1.000 people per month to be able to see their loved ones again really does not help any family. Not even within 60 months, because it will remain a hypothetical possibility even for those 1.000 people. And you know that, you can and must know that, because you have not only been dealing with the topic since your election to the parliament. For the family you are friend with it will be a matter of competition with thousands of others who will be desperately trying to show that their separation is a particularly extreme hardship – and must therefore be given preferential treatment over other applications that are put on hold.

I also doubt very much that many more people will be able to do this via family reunification from August onwards than has so far been possible under §22. In any case, there is no reasonable reason to believe that.

The fact that this law thus diametrically contradicts international and European law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child is yet another issue. On Thursday, the SPD voted in favour of a law that cannot be reconciled with the protection of the family in Article 8 of the ECHR, with Article 6 of the Constitution or with Article 10.1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This was made clear by experts of the Churches and human rights organisations (not only at the expeditious expert hearing last Monday). You were there, you know the debate and the position of the German Institute for Human Rights. How can you just ignore their arguments?! Why has your „ethics of responsibility“ (which only apparently wants to prevent something even worse, i.e. a vote of CDU/CSU with AfD and FDP and which also is misguided btw.) become so overwhelming that it ignores any principles (ethics of opinion)? Where is the borderline between this form of „ethics of responsibility“ and euphemistic opportunism?

It won’t be the only and last attack on refugee rights that we must expect during this parliamentary term. The AfD has long been involved in the governmental politics and it dictates the basic political lines to the CDU/CSU that the SPD will then nod off, either out of conviction, for the sake of coalition peace or to prevent it from being „worse“ (an open coalition of the anti-migrant right-wing factions). Or in order to prevent new elections and the recognition of the fact that this SPD, with its current performance, is no longer an electoral party for most of its regular voters. Wondering what will change or how it should change ‚til 2021…..

The next attack on a federal German level, perhaps even more devastating for refugee protection than the blockade of family reunification, will be the widespread introduction of the so-called ANkER institutions. ANkER stands for reception, decision and return facilities, (Aufnahme-, Entscheidungs- und Rückführungseinrichtungen) i.e. deportation camps based on the Bavarian model (currently Manching and Bamberg). In NRW since the end of 2015, we already have had such „focus centres“ too, where people are to be kept in isolation from legal protection, language acquisition, contact with counselling facilities and practically any access to the majority society – until deportation or acceptance.

What you and many others are justifiably proud of – a successful coming together and creating a joint life of new immigrants, refugees, migrants and old-established people together in our city, will no longer be possible for new arriving refugees. And this does not only apply to people from the so-called „safe countries of origin“: even Afghans, Iranians, Nigerians, Syrians will be affected…. they all will be stuck in state-run refugee camps where they will be subject to residence requirements, receive vouchers instead of cash (thereby being unable to pay for a bus ticket or a lawyer) for months, perhaps for years. They will hardly have any access to information and legal protection. The children will not be able to go to school for many months or even years. It should come as no surprise that violence and suicide attempts are increasing in such camps. Out of sight, out of mind, that is the underlying principle of this decision. It’s the same thing that just makes the dying in the Mediterranean become so normal.

The SPD has already agreed to the establishment of such camps in the exploratory paper. The party also agreed to the classification of authoritarian and massively precarious states as „safe countries of origin“ such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia; against better knowledge. After all, even the BAMF finds that these countries are absolutely unsafe for many people and grants protection status between 6.3% (Algeria) and 10.6% (Morocco) of all applicants.

The SPD has never particularly distinguished itself by arguing for the rights of refugees and migrants. The party always tried to prevent confrontations and controversies (including at its own base). And certainly the right of asylum isn’t an issue that lures the SPD base onto the barricades.

But at least I expect the honesty to name such undignified decisions, such opportunism, what it is: a hard-hitting „realpolitik“. I don’t expect this by an SPD member, but by a man from Wuppertal who has intensively been involved in working with refugees for years.

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