If Germany were such a model state in dealing with refugees, as some government politicians claim, an organization like Pro Asyl could simply dissolve. But there is still racism and discrimination in this country. Just think of the deportations to Afghanistan, which were still permitted until the beginning of August, or the sometimes massive bureaucratic obstacles in obtaining visas for local Afghan workers. There is no doubt that Pro Asyl still has a lot to do after 35 years.
The establishment of the Federal Working Group Pro Asyl in September 1986 fell at a time of heated asylum debates and right-wing propaganda. Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who has ruled since 1982, warned against unlimited immigration and declared war on alleged “asylum abuse”. Other Union politicians also indicated that they wanted to weaken the protection of political refugees enshrined in the Basic Law. Pro Asyl countered the often blanket prejudices with the maxim: “The individual case counts.” The 15 founding members came from the churches, from Amnesty International and terre des hommes, from charities and IG Metall. They worked together with the UN Commissioner for Refugees in Germany to prevent any restriction of the right to asylum. These included high-profile campaigns on the first “Refugee Day” in October 1986 and a nationwide refugee conference two months later. In doing so, Pro Asyl endeavored to exhaust what was available. In addition to the speakers, a priest volunteered part-time for the organization, regardless of how strong the headwind could pick up.
In the election campaigns of the late 1980s, right-wing extremists from the CDU / CSU often polarized with propaganda against migrants. At first, Turks who had fled to the Federal Republic after the military coup in 1980 were denied permission to stay in Germany. In the 1990s it was said that anyone who was fleeing the Yugoslav civil wars was not a politically persecuted person within the meaning of the Basic Law.
In the decade between 1980 and 1990, the number of asylum seekers in the Federal Republic increased significantly, which had a lot to do with the Islamic Revolution in Iran or the civil war in Lebanon. In 1986, the year Pro Asyl was founded, more than 100,000 people applied for a right of residence for the first time. This number continued to rise after the end of the Soviet Union. Even back then, the unhuman metaphor of a “flood” was used in some media, as it was to become even more popular with the influx of people seeking protection in late summer 2015. The fact that a threatening situation arose with the refugees was not only read in the Springer press, they too HE DOES used an appropriate vocabulary. In the fall of 1991 the Spiegel “Rush of the poor” and a ship shown in German colors that was overrun by countless stick figures. In doing so, the Hamburg magazine adopted an interpretation that the right-wing radical CSU split-off REP had used on its election posters months earlier. Their slogan “The boat is full” was soon adopted by some media.
At the same time, the Union parties could not resist the temptation to place migration in the context of the economic situation of many citizens. Without concrete evidence, Edmund Stoiber (CSU) complained in 1992, at the time Bavarian Minister of the Interior, “hundreds of thousands of asylum abuse”. How this could influence the mood was shown by surveys, which showed that a large part of the population often refused to accept refugees or viewed them with considerable skepticism. Intentional or not, a climate was created that favored acts of violence against migrants.
At the beginning of the 1990s there were pogrom-like riots in Hoyerswerda and Rostock-Lichtenhagen that lasted for days, and fatal arson attacks in Mölln and Solingen. Events that are anchored in the collective memory to this day. After the racist attacks in Hoyerswerda in September 1991, such crimes increased across the country, most of them committed in West Germany, although the media reflection gave the impression that the attacks were mainly concentrated in the East German federal states. The leading reactions in politics seemed to prove the perpetrators right: They demanded and implemented an amendment to Article 16 of the Basic Law in order to restrict the right of asylum in Germany. The resistance within the Union, for example from Norbert Blüm, was gone. The SPD, FDP and CDU / CSU agreed on a tightening of asylum law, which was passed by the Bundestag in May 1993 with a two-thirds majority. The basic right to asylum was thus de facto abolished in reunified Germany. In the case of entry via safe third countries – and this applied to all neighboring countries of the Federal Republic of Germany – refugees were no longer entitled to asylum. In the following 15 years, the number of asylum applications in Germany fell significantly and in some cases was below 20,000 per year.
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets against the “asylum compromise”. Pro Asyl criticized the disenfranchisement of asylum seekers and achieved at least one change in airport procedures before the Constitutional Court in 1996, as they have been practiced at Frankfurt / Main Airport since 1993. After all, asylum seekers were now entitled to free advice on asylum law in these procedures. Although Pro Asyl was unable to stop the 1993 amendment to the Basic Law with a counter-campaign, this network proved to be unique in the EU. In no other member country was there a comparable organization that primarily advocated the right of asylum and was financed by donations.
Once founded by a dozen activists, Pro Asyl now has a respectable 25,000 supporting members. In the beginning, operations were mainly carried out at the national level, but this has since changed because the EU’s external borders have come more and more into focus. Practices have long been common there that have nothing to do with the self-image of the European Union as a community of values. In 2007, Pro Asyl researched the situation of refugees in camps on the Greek islands and presented a report that showed how much human rights were violated by the coast guard and police on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos. In several judgments up to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), deportations to countries such as Greece, whose asylum practice was attested to as having “systemic deficiencies”, were then banned. Once again, Pro Asyl had put its finger in a wound that was politically not considered particularly opportune to heal. On the contrary: the situation of refugees on the Greek islands is still precarious, if not catastrophic, and an evacuation to mainland Europe is hardly foreseeable. The noble basic rights as well as a jurisprudence of European courts that is concerned with humanity are shattered by the realities of Fortress Europe and an inconsistent refugee policy of the EU.
This has become even more insurmountable in recent years, due to the cooperation with the Libyan coast guard, illegal push-backs in the Mediterranean, the actions of Frontex, border fences within Europe, the refugee deal with Turkey and cooperation with African warlords. The European external border is noticeably already being strengthened and expanded on the African continent. In any case, Pro Asyl celebrates its 35th birthday with mixed feelings.