Syrian refugees are in the process of finding a new home in virtually every municipality in Germany. The reception of refugees from Syria, and elsewhere, since summer 2015 made the headlines in almost every newspaper around the world. It is less well-known that Germany already offered protection to some Syrian refugees prior to 2015. Many arrived in Germany on their own and were granted asylum following a regular asylum procedure (they will be referred to hereinafter as ‘recognised refugees’). A number of Syrian refugees were admitted to Germany in the framework of various resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes established since 2012. These programmes, however, fall short of providing their beneficiaries with the same status, rights and guarantees as recognised refugees (Grote et al. 2016: 6), even though they generally meet the criteria set out in Article 1 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Refugee Convention’).
Following an analysis of what may be described as a ‘legal entry’ framework, I will show that the German resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes have serious, albeit different, shortcomings. As a consequence of the agreement between the European Union (EU) Member States and Turkey of 18 March 2016, known as the EU-Turkey deal, resettlement and humanitarian admission have tended to be transformed from a protection mechanism into a containment tool. They also fall short of constituting truly sustainable solutions to the plight of refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries (i.e. Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq) and in other protracted refugee situations because, as will be shown, they are used as alternatives to family reunion and conventional refugee protection, which place more duties on the host country. These aspects should be taken into due consideration in the context of the reform of the Common European Asylum System, given that the European Commission has made a proposal for a Regulation establishing a Union Resettlement Framework.