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Explainer: Who Gets Asylum In Germany?

A German police officer and a migrant boy share a lighter moment after the latter's arrival at the main train station in Munich. Germany is expected to receive hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers this year.
A German police officer and a migrant boy share a lighter moment after the latter's arrival at the main train station in Munich. Germany is expected to receive hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers this year.

The hundreds of thousands of people who have braved treacherous seas and arduous journeys in search of better lives in affluent Europe -- and the many who have lost their lives trying -- have prompted soul-searching within the European Union, where views on the acceptance of migrants and refugees vary widely.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week called the current crisis a major test of Europe's commitment to "universal civil rights" and "a huge national challenge." Meanwhile, huge waves of migrants keep arriving in Germany, with as many as 800,000 predicted this year. Here are five things to know about their chances of gaining asylum.

Who gets asylum?

The flood of migrants into Germany includes Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Eritreans, and citizens of Western Balkan states, just to name the top countries of origin. But some are far more likely than others to see their asylum requests granted.

Syrians, by far, stand the best chance. In 2014, only 1 percent of more than 26,000 Syrians who applied for asylum or refugee status were refused. Germany has been among the most welcoming of EU states for refugees from Syria -- where a four-year civil war has killed at least 240,000 people and created some 4 million refugees. Berlin took a further step this week. The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees on August 31 declared its suspension, in the case of Syrians, of cooperation with an EU accord that allows destination countries like Germany to send refugees back to the first EU state they entered. "Germany will become the member state responsible for processing their claims," it said.

Citizens of the Western Balkan countries who hope to get asylum or refugee status have far less chance because Berlin considers all the Western Balkan states to be stable. Serbians made up the largest group of asylum seekers after Syrians last year, but 63 percent of their requests were refused. Members of the third-largest group of applicants, Macedonians, were refused 65 percent of the time. Almost 50 percent of the applicants from Kosovo were also refused last year, along with 60 percent refused from Bosnia, and 82 percent refused from Albania.

The acceptance rate for people from other parts of the world varies widely between these poles for countries at war and at peace.

The fourth-largest group of applicants last year was Afghans, who were refused 21 percent of the time. And Iraqis, who make up the sixth-largest group, were refused 9 percent of the time. Both countries have highly unstable regions as well as peaceful ones.

How long does it take to gain asylum?

It usually takes about seven months for migration authorities to rule on asylum and refugee applications. But again, not every group of applicants is treated the same way.

Germany favors a fast-track system for dealing with requests from countries of origin it considers stable. Berlin announced in February that any asylum claim filed by a refugee from Kosovo would be processed within two weeks, following similar procedures introduced for refugees from Bosnia, Serbia, and Macedonia.

"The discussion is to create a fastest track for those who have a small likelihood of being recognized and keep them in asylum-seeking homes until the decision is made," says Rainer Ohliger, a migration researcher at Network Migration in Europe, a network of migration academics and professionals in Berlin.

He notes that each individual, from any country of origin, has the right to file an application and have it fully considered. But the fast track aims to free up the migration system so it can more rapidly address the needs of those from countries in crisis.

What happens while you wait for a ruling?

All applicants spend their first three months living in collective housing that can include fenced-in former barracks far from cities. The accommodation is free, and applicants receive pocket money of up to 140 euros per person per month and can get emergency medical treatment. During these three months, they are not allowed to work.

The amount of pocket money applicants should receive is a subject of continual debate in Germany.

"There is a political argument right now that this could be seen as an incentive from a Southeastern European point of view, where the average income of a family might range between, for example in Albania, 300 to 500 euros a month," says Ohliger. Certain spokespeople have proposed stopping direct cash payments and rather have a system of vouchers.

After three months, applicants are relocated to cities and housed in apartments. They may then seek work, but a business can hire them only if it proves to authorities that the position cannot be filled by a qualified German citizen or other EU national.

What happens after you get asylum?

Once asylum is granted, individuals obtain the same access to work and to social services that German citizens enjoy. They can compete for jobs on an equal footing and, between jobs, draw the same welfare payments that unemployed Germans receive. They are also fully enrolled in the German health system. But their new life is still not fully settled. Each case will be reviewed again in three years to see if their asylum status is still justified by the situation in their home country. If it is not, it can be revoked.

Those who see their initial asylum applications refused can appeal the decision in court and begin a legal process that can last for months. If they lose the appeal, they will be deported.

Has Germany ever seen an influx like this before?

If 800,000 people request asylum or refugee status in Germany this year as predicted, the number will dwarf the previous record of 438,000 set in 1992 with the breakup of Yugoslavia.

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