Migrants Overwhelm German Courts With Asylum Lawsuits: 'This Will Paralyze Us for Years'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel / Getty
July 26, 2017

Migrants are overwhelming the German court system as hundreds of thousands have appealed rulings denying them refugee status.

Many migrants are suing after being granted "subsidiary protection" status by the German authorities, seeking to become full refugeees, the Washington Post reports. Those with subsidiary protection status can stay in Germany for up to three years, but do not have the right to reunify with their families.

Two-thirds of cases in Berlin's administrative court are from asylum seekers, as 250,000 appeals are pending across the country.

"This will paralyze us for years," a judge told Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel concerning the build up of lawsuits.

In 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took an especially liberal line in welcoming refugees. But when the country was shaken by terror attacks, including one on a Christmas market by a Tunisian asylum-seeker, concerns about the German open-door policy led to tighter regulations.

German courts, however, have disagreed with German immigration officials' judgements the vast majority of the time, finding in favor of 90 percent of Syrians who sue for asylum. Some hail this proportion as a human rights victory.

"The courts are cleaning up the mess," University of Hamburg law professor Nora Markard said. "The success rate tells us how important judicial review is — and how important it is for people to have legal representation."

Geneva Convention guidelines define a refugee as someone with "a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." When Germany's migration office puts people in subsidiary protection rather than refugee status, it does so based on the belief that they are not facing political oppression in their home country.

The strain on German courts is likely to continue giving the country problems. Robert Seegmüller, chair of the Association of German Administrative Law Judges, said that the volume of asylum cases is bringing the system toward a crisis.

"The situation is dramatic for administrative courts," Seegmüller told publishing group Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland. "We are now completely stretched to our limits."

He said that having 250,000 cases pending is unsustainable.

"The administrative court system cannot endure such a figure in the long run," Seegmüller said. "At some point, everything will collapse."