German and Austrian Christians are denouncing radical restrictions on the Church asylum system for refugees.

Driving the news

In Germany and Austria, refugees ‘”illegally” in the country and at serious risk of deportation can seek refuge in a so-called “asylum church” or “sanctuary”.

It’s a system that recently made headlines in Austria, where police raided a convent in Langenlois and burst into the cloistered area of the religious house to arrest a 22-year-old Afghan asylum seeker who was fortunate enough to receive a last-minute stay on his deportation order.

The KirchenAsyl, the Churches’ asylum system, is run in violation of immigration law, but as the German Bishops recognised in 2015, for example, church asylum is a “last resort” for vulnerable foreigners out of options and in serious danger if returned to their country of origin.

The German Catholic Church runs the system through a “non-violent form of civil disobedience” designed to protect the supreme good of the life of the asylum seeker.

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But ever since August 2018 the KirchenAsyl system has been under threat in both Germany and Austria, thanks to populist politicians playing on the fear of migrants.

As SIR reports, the German States or Länder, with the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), reneged last year on their 2015 agreement with the Catholic and Evangelical Churches to formally process asylum petitions after refguees spend six months in the KirchenAsyl system, dragging that period out to eighteen months.

The result has been a plunge in positive resolutions of KirchenAsyl cases from 80% in 2016 to just 2% in 2018-19.

And that’s extremely bad news for the 703 people currently in the 441 KirchenAsyl sanctuaries – including 155 minors – according to KirchenAsyl Ecumenical Committee figures.

Why it matters

Despite the political pressure and the drop in positive outcomes, Andreas Lob-Hüdepohl, theologian and expert in social ethics, member of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), defended the KirchenAsyl system as “an act of emergency relief”.

“The purpose of the Church Asylum is not to grant asylum”, the theologian explained.

“This is not possible because the church is not a ‘state within the state’. Church congregations are not free zones which may or may not grant asylum as they wish. This distinguishes today’s Church Asylum from its historical predecessors”, Lob-Hüdepohl clarified.

Today, however, “for human rights reasons, the Church is pursuing a pro-asylum campaign, that the State should grant to people who face real danger if they were to be deported – if necessary with the support of Christian faithful involved in church congregations”, the theologian affirmed.

He added that that’s why he prefers to define it as “asylum with the church” and not “asylum inside the church”.

For the record

As for the Catholics on the ground sheltering asylum seekers, they too are protesting the meanness behind the political restrictions on the KirchenAsyl system.

“Reason should have priority over symbolic politics”, said Langenlois convent Superior General Sister Franziscka Bruckner, arguing for the primacy of the humanitarian right to reception.

Raids like the one on her monastery where the Afghan asylum seeker was holed up are “a slap in the face to every effort aimed at meaningful integration”, Bruckner lamented.

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