An overview about the conditions for refugees and non-EU-migrants in Germany.

Last update : March 2024

Usually refugees or non-EU migrants are able to obtain temporary or permanent residence in Germany only by applying for asylum or through marriage or family links. It’s still quite complicated – except for highly qualified experts and specialists – to get papers concluding a labour contract.

Created by potrace 1.10, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2011

Since March 2022 mainly Ukrainians who fled from the war are an exception of this because they get a residence permit right away and since the beginning of the war about 1 million people fled from Ukraine to Germany. Compared to this a rather small number of refugees from Afghanistan came by a reception-program since the Taliban took the power in 2021 (in total up to now around 30.000 people) plus around 4.000 people have been able to come last year via resettlement-programs for example from Turkey to Germany - which is compared to the size of the country a rather small number.

After a historical peak point in asylum applications in Germany after the “summer of migration” in 2015 (about 500.000) and 2016 (about 750.000), the numbers in the following years decreased a lot. But in 2022 it changed and the number of arrivals increased again: besides 240.000 asylum applications around 1.000.000 war refugees from Ukraine escaped to Germany. In 2023 we could follow another rise in numbers: almost 330.000 new asylum applications were submitted. This development reflects the strength and tenacity of flight- and migration movements despite and against the aggravation of the EU and German border regime.

In the last years we faced a lot of changes. For example concerning accommodation: newcomers should stay in first reception centers for much longer time, in the worst case up to 18 months. But since in 2022 and 2023 so many people arrived again, the times in the first reception camps has been reduced again in most cases. It is a very dynamic situation, so that it is very difficult to give general information about the duration of asylum procedures or times in the first reception camps.

Asylum procedures were speeded up and interviews are often taken within the first few days. This means you have to get prepared already before you enter the procedure. Nevertheless it can also happen that in case you arrive in a moment, when the camp is overcrowded, your asylum interview will be delayed and you get your transfer to a smaller camp even before it took place. The times until a decision differ a lot and many people wait now for much longer then the announced 6 months until a decision on their asylum-application is made.

There is an ongoing dynamic of law-enforcements creating more difficulties, first of all to speed up deportations. Nevertheless thousands of deportations still fail – because people resist or hide and also because pilots refuse to transport people against their will.

Police controls at the borders mainly to Austria, Poland and Switzerland are re-implemented and controls inside the country are quite common on trains, in train-stations and inner city areas. Nevertheless probably tens of thousands of undocumented migrants live and work, mainly with the support of their communities, in big cities.

Assistance is also given by a lot of medical help projects or other advice centres/services run by antiracist groups, NGOs or unions, and by self-organised groups of migrants. Most of these pro-jects are open for documented as well as for undocumented migrants. You can find a list of contacts here.

Everyone without residence permit, who is apprehended by the police (at the borders or inside the country) has the right to apply for asylum. Usually s/he should not be arrested or detained for a longer time. Only exception are the areas close to the border, where sometimes people are sent back to the country where they entered from (for example Austria) right away. Asylum applications have to be directed to reception centers; usually the police will give you the address, where to find the next reception centre, when you tell them you want to apply for asylum.

There is no guarantee that you can remain in the place/city of the asylum application as the allocation of accommodation is dependent on a Germany-wide distribution system.

Actually some people have to stay for months in the first reception centers, often in very difficult situations, in places where daily (Dublin-)deportation-attempts happen, before being finally transferred to another camp or accommodation. Most asylum seekers won’t have to live in the first reception camps, but will be sent to the different districts already during the asylum procedure - where they are also obliged to stay in the accommodation they are signed in for, often in isolated places.

If you have given your fingerprints in another EU-country, before you came to Germany, you might get threatened to be deported back. This is based on the so-called Dublin-regulation. Nevertheless there are many ways to avoid a deportation under Dublin. It is very important to inform yourself in advance and to be prepared. Useful information on how to stop a Dublin-deportation can be found here.

The duration of an asylum procedure is incalculable. For some groups of refugees (coming from war zones or dictatorships) the chance to get refugee recognition, subsidiary protection or at least national subsidiary protection (Abschiebeverbot) is not too bad. But of course it depends on the individual case and the preparation! The first asylum interview is crucial for the whole pro-cedure, and should be prepared very well. Some useful guides for the asylum procedure you may find here. Better to prepare the interview before applying for asylum, because the interro-gation can sometimes already happen within the first days.

A lawyer has to be paid by the asylum seeker him- or herself.

Refugees and migrants, whose asylum application got rejected, but for one reason or another, cannot be deported, will get the very precarious status of toleration (Duldung). No legalisation of undocumented migrants has ever taken place in Germany, but since January 2022 a new legislation on right to stay (Bleiberechtsregelung) came into practice that allows people to get a residence permit out of the status of toleration (Duldung), when they fulfil certain criteria. For this reason, in case you come from a country of origin where you probably won’t get a status via the asylum procedure, it is important to get rooted as soon as possible, to learn language and to start to work, even if the conditions are difficult. You can find more about the different ways to get a legal status besides the asylum procedure and the new residence law (here).

The detention and deportation system is „well“ organised in Germany, the bureaucracy puts a lot of energy into trying to kick refugees and migrants out of the country, not avoiding any costs, for example by utilizing charter deportation flights. Never trust the foreigners’ offices (Ausländerbehörde), better to be escorted by friends or supporters, if the status is not safe!

To deal with all the mentioned precarious situations and to counter the risks of deportation and exclusion we see it as most important to build „your support team“: with friends in your commu-nity or neighborhood and with good counsellers/lawyers. Our experience again and again: Solidarity will win.