Help for earthquake victims: hardly any visas for Syrians

Status: 03/10/2023 4:03 p.m

The German government has promised earthquake victims from Turkey and Syria easier visa procedures. In practice, however, this benefits almost exclusively people from Turkey. For Syrians, the hurdles remain high.

By Uli Hauck, ARD Capital Studio

When Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is asked, she proudly explains how quickly the simplified visa process for earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria worked. And at least as far as the formal implementation by the government is concerned, she is right. On February 13, the simplified visa procedure was decided and on February 20, the first 96 so-called Schengen visas were issued. According to the Foreign Ministry, there are now around 150 visas per day. Ascending trend.

On February 21, Foreign Minister Baerbock and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser were in the Turkish earthquake zone. Since then, a VW bus has been driving through the particularly affected villages. There, earthquake victims can contact the Turkish government service provider. He processes people’s fingerprints and visa applications directly on site and transmits the data to German authorities.

Valid passport and biometric photo

For example, despite the promise of an unbureaucratic procedure, a valid passport and a biometric photo are still required. The Federal Ministry of the Interior also sees Turkey as responsible here. Because that only allows citizens who have a Turkish passport to leave the earthquake area.

It has long been criticized that the procedure is still too bureaucratic. However, Federal Interior Minister Faeser has repeatedly pointed out that she is responsible for security and must take appropriate safety precautions. At least 2,300 facilitated Schengen visas for three months were issued by Thursday afternoon – but only for Turkish earthquake victims.

The situation is difficult for Syrians

It is much more difficult for Syrian earthquake victims to leave the earthquake area and to apply for a visa. Because Germany does not maintain diplomatic relations with the Assad regime, people have to laboriously get to Jordan, the Kurdish part of Iraq, Turkey or Lebanon in order to be able to apply for a visa at all.

In addition, the simplified 90-day visa does not exist for the Syrians, who are also suffering from the consequences of the years of war in addition to the earthquake. When asked, the Ministry of the Interior justified this, among other things, with a lack of return prospects for the Syrians who were hit twice hard.

Different visas

The visa is an “emergency measure”, but you have to leave Germany after 90 days. And since many Syrians have no “fundamental possibility of returning,” different visas are issued to Turks and Syrians.

Since the Syrian earthquake area is also a civil war area, many Syrians might have a higher protection status than refugees. This means that they could probably also apply for asylum and not just a visa application for 90 days. In practice, this means that Syrian earthquake victims have to apply for a permanent visa for Germany in a neighboring country as part of family reunification.

“Two Class System”?

According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, there are also simplifications here. However, as of Thursday only 268 Syrian earthquake victims were able to make use of it. In addition to family reunification, the federal government also refers to a humanitarian admission program with which up to 3,000 Syrians are to be admitted this year. Earthquake victims should be given preferential consideration.

Svenja Borgschulte from the German-Syrian non-governmental organization “Adopt a Revolution” nevertheless criticizes the German government’s handling of the Syrian earthquake victims. She speaks of “discrimination” and a “two-tier system” when it comes to visas for earthquake victims.

And the previous figures seem to prove her right. Because for Syrian earthquake victims without belongings and without papers, the visa hurdles to Germany are difficult to overcome.

After the earthquake – hardly any visas for Syrians

Uli Hauck, ARD Berlin, March 10, 2023 3:01 p.m

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