Inspiring Approaches

BerlinIndependent support during the asylum process

What is inspiring?

Berlin has stepped in to fund NGOs providing independent advice to asylum seekers during the asylum process – in response to recent decisions at the federal level that jeopardise the provision of independent counselling. The independent advisory service is intended, in the words of the Senate, “to ensure that all asylum seekers who have been admitted to Berlin receive, in good time before the asylum procedure is initiated at the responsible federal office, the offer, free of charge for them, to be comprehensively informed by a non-governmental agency about the asylum procedure and, as a matter of priority, about their rights and obligations in this regard”. Starting in the financial year 2018/2019, Berlin has funded ten independent non-governmental advice centres providing legal and procedural advice for refugees and migrants. This funding has been extended to 2020/2021.

What is the political background?

In 2019, the federal government began reorganizing advisory services for asylum seekers. “Impartial” advice during the asylum process is now no longer the responsibility of states like Berlin, but of the federal government. With advice now the remit of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), the very authority responsible for providing individual and “impartial” advice to people seeking protection is also the one responsible for ruling on their asylum applications. The Federal Ministry of the Interior denies any conflict of interest: “In order to guarantee the independence of asylum advice within the authorities, asylum advice employees are organisationally separated from the asylum department during their deployment and are not used for hearings and decisions in asylum proceedings”, was the response to a question from the Linke party in the Bundestag. NGOs may continue to provide advice, but will no longer receive any funding from the federal government. According to the BAMF, EU project funding for independent advice services on applying for asylum will also no longer be possible in the future, as the service is covered by the state.

Who initiated the project? How?

Berlin drew up a specification of services for independent advice on asylum cases at the arrival centre. This was the basis for a nationwide tendering process. A new team of social workers provides advice primarily on the preparation of the asylum hearing – a crucial part of the asylum process. The focus of the new advisors is on early, independent preliminary advice and on preparation for hearings. If a need for protection is identified, the asylum seekers are referred to special advice centres.

How does it operate on the ground?

Asylum seekers admitted to Berlin usually remain at the arrival centre for three days and are then assigned a place to stay at an initial reception facility. At this stage, the asylum interview at the BAMF has not yet taken place. In order to ensure that all asylum seekers learn about the independent asylum procedure advice service in good time before filing their asylum application, an advisory service on the asylum process was set up at the arrival centre. All newly arrived asylum seekers who pass through the “Oranienburger Straße 285” facility immediately receive information on the independent asylum procedure advisory service.

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