Salzgitter ban a 'setback' for refugees in Germany

Lower Saxony decree prohibiting resettlement of recognised refugees condemned as an 'infringement of rights'.

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    Around 5,800 refugees currently reside in the northern city of Salzgitter [Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]
    Around 5,800 refugees currently reside in the northern city of Salzgitter [Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

    A German city's decision to ban refugees who are already recognised by the country is an infringement of human rights, according to the UN's refugee agency and human rights groups.

    The state government of Lower Saxony passed a decree last week instructing migration offices to prevent immigration to Salzgitter, citing the northern city's "exceptionally high immigration" and "for reasons of integration".

    "This is an exceptional measure aimed at preventing the social and societal exclusion of immigrant refugees," said the mandate by the state's interior ministry.

    Under the state order, refugees will need proof of employment or have close relatives already living in the city to be allowed settlement.

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    The new decree is based upon a federal law, which officials say is aimed at improving integration.

    The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, criticised the law in a statement last year.

    "We are critical of these limitations imposed on this right if they are not based on an individual assessment of the case," Roland Bank, officer-in-charge of the German representation of UNHCR, told Al Jazeera in an email on Monday.

    "We have underlined the general right to the freedom of choice of residency of recognised refugees as laid down in the Geneva Refugee Convention (Article 26)."

    'No positive effect'

    Located in the southeast of Lower Saxony, Salzgitter has a population of more than 100,000.

    Around 5,800 refugees currently live in the city, according to Mayor Franck Klingebiel.

    Sascha Schissel, policy adviser at the NGO Refugee Council of Lower Saxony, said the decree is a "setback" to resettlement and "only adds to the obstacles refugees already face in Germany".

    "This measure is an unnecessary infringement of refugee rights and a bureaucratic folly which will have no positive effect on the challenges concerning integration in Salzgitter, whatsoever," Schissel told Al Jazeera. "Integration and participation of refugees will now be more hampered than before."

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    Many refugees still live in camps in Lower Saxony because they are unable to find accommodation.

    "Integration and participation can only be successful when refugees are able to live in their own flats and lead a self-determined life," said Schissel. 

    Political shift

    The development in northern Germany comes as Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door policy for refugees draws fierce criticism from her detractors.

    Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party suffered defeat to the Social Democrats (SDP) in Lower Saxony's state election on Sunday.

    The ban in Salzgitter also comes amid the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which established itself as the country’s third biggest political force in last month's general election.

    The emergence of the anti-refugee and anti-Muslim party in the parliament has worried many asylum seekers in the country.

    There is also concern that after Salzgitter, more restrictions of movement in Lower Saxony might take place in the near future.

    Schissel said the new measure though small is a "striking example for symbolic politics". 

    Follow Saba Aziz on Twitter: @saba_aziz

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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