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Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Basic Law provides for these rights, and the Government generally respected them in practice. For ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the Basic Law provides both for citizenship immediately upon application and for legal residence without restrictions. The law provides that children born to legal foreign residents be granted citizenship. Individuals may retain both German citizenship and that of their parents until the age of 23, when they must choose one or the other. The law reduced the period of residence legal foreign residents must spend in the country in order to earn the right to naturalize from 15 to 8 years.
The Basic Law and legislation provide for the granting of asylum and refugee status to persons who meet the definition in the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. In practice, the Government provided protection against refoulement and provided refugee status or asylum. Both the Federal Government and state governments cooperated with the office of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, although immigration matters were primarily a state-level responsibility.
Individuals attempting to enter via a "safe country of transit" (any country in the European Union (EU) or adhering to the Geneva Convention on Refugees) were ineligible for asylum and could be turned back at the border or returned to that "safe country of transit" if they managed to enter the country. Individuals whose applications were rejected on these grounds had up to 2 weeks to appeal the decision. Individuals who arrived at an international airport and who were deemed to have come from a "safe country of origin" could be detained at an airport holding facility. In these cases, the Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees was required to make a decision on an asylum application within 48 hours or allow the person to enter the country. The applicant could appeal a negative decision to an administrative court within 3 days, and the court was required to rule within 14 days or allow the individual to enter the country. Although stays in the airport facility are limited to a maximum of 19 days, applicants whose claims were rejected, but who could not be deported immediately, allegedly have been held at the airport for months, a practice criticized by some refugee assistance groups and human rights advocates.
Applicants who entered the country and were denied asylum at their original administrative hearing could challenge the decision in court, and 80 percent of applicants denied asylum did so. Only about 3 to 4 percent of such rejections were overturned. The rejected applicant was allowed to remain in the country during the course of the appeal, which usually took at least a year and sometimes significantly longer. Applicants received housing and other social service benefits during this time. Asylum applicants and civil war refugees have been allowed to work after a 1-year waiting period. Individuals who failed to cooperate during the deportation process or who were deemed liable to flee to avoid deportation could be held in predeportation detention, with the average detention period lasting 5 to 6 weeks.
Some foreigners whose asylum applications were rejected, but who would be endangered if they were returned to their home country, received temporary residence permits; however, they were expected to leave when conditions in their home country allowed for their safe return. The vast majority of the approximately 345,000 Bosnians and the approximately 200,000 Kosovars whom the Government admitted during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia fell into this category; most of these persons have since been repatriated or resettled outside of the country. For the remainder, once their residence permits expired they could be deported, although some exceptions were made for certain vulnerable groups, such as members of ethnic minorities, including Serbs, Roma, Ashkalia, and Muslim Slavs. In a number of cases, there also were exceptions made for medical reasons. The Government continued to support voluntary return programs for refugees from the former Yugoslavia, providing financial incentives of between $956 and $2,813 (765 and 2,250 euros) to help cover travel and resettlement costs. Many states provided additional resettlement funds. However, failure to accept voluntary repatriation subjected these refugees to the threat of deportation, forced them to leave their personal property behind, and excluded them from reentering the country for a 5-year period.
In some cases, unsuccessful asylum seekers attempted to thwart their deportation by refusing to disclose to authorities their country of origin or their identity. This situation was prevalent among asylum seekers from West Africa; it was also not unusual among asylum seekers from the former Soviet Union. Several states attempted to speed up repatriation of uncooperative rejected asylum seekers by opening communal accommodations where foreigners were housed while authorities obtained valid information regarding their identity and citizenship. Some refugee-rights and church organizations criticized these centers as inhumane. They claimed that the basic amenities and relative lack of freedom of movement exerted psychological pressure on the residents. Authorities countered that the centers' emphasis on counseling and job skill development promoted the residents' willingness to depart voluntarily and enhanced their chances of success in their home countries.
During the year, there were 377 voluntary returns of Bosnian refugees. The Government estimated that since 1999, approximately 100,000 Albanian Kosovars have returned to Kosovo. According to government sources, 85 percent of these returned voluntarily, the other 15 percent involuntarily. These figures were consistent with those of refugee advocate groups. The Government estimated that there were approximately 60,000 deportable Kosovar refugees in the country. Of these, 27,000 were ethnic Albanians and 33,000 were members of ethnic minorities, primarily Roma and Serbs, but also including Bosniaks, Egyptians, Ashkalia, Turks and Torbesh. Roma and Serbs were exempted from forced returns, but other ethnic minorites and Albanians were being returned, increasingly on a forced basis. In coordination with the U.N. Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), German authorities in some states provide voluntary returnees with some resettlement funds and in-country assistance.
There were two reports of the forced deportation of Chechens to Russia. After the 2002 incident in a Moscow theater in Russia, the federal Interior Ministry recommended to its state-level counterparts that deportations of Chechens should be temporarily halted and that previously refused asylum cases of Chechens remaining in Germany should be re-evaluated. However, according to AI, many asylum applications by Chechens were refused during the year.
AI reported that the Government deported a Chechen man in Baden-Wuerttemberg whose two applications for asylum were denied. During the year, the Government refused to consider an asylum application from a Chechen man who entered the country through Poland on the grounds that he entered through a "safe country of transit."
Due to continuing security concerns, the Government decided not to compel the return of Afghan refugees.
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