Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Narrative of the "Ungrateful Refugee"

Today's Washington Post ran an article about asylum-seekers suing the German government for the backlog, delays and denied claims that have clogged the court system since the crisis began. The title says it all: "In Germany, Merkel welcomed hundreds of thousands, of refugees. Now, many are suing the government."

Merkel was required by law to accept all refugees trying to enter Germany. The process for determining refugee status can be time consuming and costly, but all litigation is like that. The state spends millions each year defending itself from lawsuits, processing parking tickets, chasing down criminals, maintaining jails and performing a host of administrative and criminal procedures in an attempt to carry out the law. Yet only the costs of processing asylum claims are routinely brought up as somehow unjustified.

Germany has been granting most Syrian asylum-seekers not refugee status under the 1951 Convention, but something called "subsidiary protection," which is granted to individuals who do not qualify as refugees but who face serious harm in their countries. With such cases, we see the major difference between refugee status in the EU and in Africa, with the latter granting refugee status to all persons fleeing war and "events seriously disturbing public order." Persons denied refugee status have the right to appeal.

It is not my intention to debate whether or not Syrian asylum-seekers in Germany should be granted asylum or subsidiary protection. Such determinations depend on the individual cases and the circumstances of flight. Importantly, however, many asylum-seekers who appeal their cases appear to be winning, showing that judges are agreeing that refugee status is the most appropriate solution. Germans worried about keeping costs down should urge the government to apply the right standard in the first instance and not waste everyone's time and money forcing Syrian refugees to go through a lengthy appeals process.

Most disturbingly, articles like this one frame the issue as one of "ungrateful refugees" biting the hand that is trying to feed them, rather than of government bureaucratic incompetency in applying the law and what appears to be a broad attempt to cheat refugees out of their rights. This state of affairs is made all the sadder by the fact that it was Germany's own actions during World War II that brought the Refugee Convention into existence.

How's about this for a title? "German Government, Historical Impetus Behind Refugee Law, Tries to Cheat Syrian Refugees Out of Their Rights".