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16 Oct, 2022 21:19

German minister defends privileges for Ukrainian refugees

People fleeing the conflict with Russia receive broader social benefits than other asylum seekers
German minister defends privileges for Ukrainian refugees

Germany should continue its policy of automatically granting Ukrainian refugees a stay permit without needing to go through asylum request processing, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Hubertus Heil said on Saturday. The EU decided in June that Ukrainians would not be required to go through the normal procedures for refugees from other parts of the world.

“People are fleeing a terrible war that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin instigated,” Heil told German daily Tagesspiegel, adding that “there is nothing to take back” from them.

In Germany, Ukrainian refugees are treated like recipients of Harz IV – a complex system of social welfare and unemployment benefits, German media reports. This means higher aid payments and an immediate work permit, among other things.

Normally, asylum seekers have to go through multi-stage asylum processing, which can last many months, according to some reports. One report in the second quarter of 2020 said that the average processing time for this type of application is ten months. During this period, an asylum seeker will receive lower aid payments under the Asylum-Seekers’ Benefits Act, and has no right to work in Germany.

The exemption granted to Ukrainians benefits both them and the local authorities, Heil said, adding that basic social benefits are largely covered by the federal government. Nevertheless, Berlin’s current policy has apparently faced resistance at several levels.

The leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Friedrich Merz, accused the authorities of encouraging what he called “social tourism” on the part of Ukrainians. The “refugees” have been traveling back and forth between Germany and Ukraine, which they had supposedly fled, he claimed in late September.

Heil dismissed these comments, saying they only “poison” the political and social climate. “We are currently experiencing the largest refugee influx since WWII and have managed to help hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine,” he said.

However, according to Reinhard Sager, the head of the German municipalities association, these measures send the wrong signal, and in the end will only lead to an even higher influx of refugees.

In early October, the heads of around two dozen municipalities in the southwestern state of Baden-Wurttemberg warned that German cities and towns are already overwhelmed with asylum seekers amid the influx from Ukraine.

Human rights organizations have also criticized Berlin for singling out Ukrainians and granting lower status to other refugees, German news outlet Tagesschau reports. The number of Ukrainian refugees living in Germany surpassed the 1 million mark at the end of September, according to the Interior Ministry.