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IMMIGRATION

Who are the refugees coming to Germany via Belarus?

At the Eisenhuettenstadt reception centre for refugees on Germany's border with Poland, 19-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker Siban dreams of making a new life for himself after an exhausting journey from Belarus.

Refugees in Brandenburg, Germany
Refugees check their mobile phones at the arrival centre of the initial reception facility of the eastern German state of Brandenburg in Eisenhuettenstadt, on October 25th, 2021. Photo: JENS SCHLUETER / AFP

“I want to live here,” he says in broken German, learned through a few months of online courses.

Siban spent eight days trekking across Poland by foot to get to Germany after flying to Minsk from Turkey.

“I had no water, no food, it was cold. It was very tiring,” he tells AFP.

Siban is one of more than 6,100 illegal migrants who have entered Germany via Poland from Belarus since the beginning of this year, most of them from the Middle East, according to German authorities.

The EU accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of flying migrants from the Middle East and Africa to Minsk and then sending them into the bloc on foot in retaliation for sanctions imposed over a crackdown on the opposition.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has branded the alleged scheme “a hybrid threat, in which migrants are used as political weapons”.

The migrants are initially crossing from Belarus into Poland and the Baltic States, but many are then travelling on to Germany – seen as welcoming to migrants after Angela Merkel’s decision to leave the borders open to hundreds of thousands in 2015-16.

READ ALSO: How Germany is proposing to tighten controls on the Polish border

Tenfold increase

On arriving in Germany, the migrants are not being immediately sent back to Poland as EU rules would normally dictate, but taken to reception centres for registration.

The centre in Eisenhuettenstadt has seen 10 times more arrivals this year than in 2020, Olaf Jansen, head of the city’s migration authority, tells AFP.

It feels like 2015 all over again, “even if we don’t have the same numbers” at the national level, he says.

A dozen new tents have been set up to accommodate the new arrivals and create space for Covid-19 testing centres.

Around half of the 1,300 asylum seekers at the centre are from Iraq. The others are mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Yemen.

Refugees at the Polish border
A refugee sits as clothes dry at the grounds of the arrival centre of the initial reception facility of the eastern German state of Brandenburg in Eisenhuettenstadt. Photo: JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)

Most of them want to remain in Germany. “Very few want to continue the journey to France or northern Europe,” Jansen says.

“I want to stay in Germany and continue my studies. It’s good here,” says Rohullah, 23, who arrived four days ago from Afghanistan.

To pass the time, some play football between the tents, while others call their relatives while sitting in the courtyard. All have stories of exhausting journeys on foot.

Zeidun, 22, from Fallujah in Iraq, walked non-stop for 10 days across Poland before taking a taxi across the border.

Border controls

Many have stories of brutality by the Polish police. “They are dangerous. They hit, and they have dogs,” says a 21-year-old from Baghdad who gave his name as Mamontzer.

To cope with the influx, Berlin this week tightened its border controls with Poland.

On the route to Eisenhuettenstadt, a dozen police officers have been assigned the task of blocking the bridge linking the German city of Frankfurt (Oder) and the Polish town of Slubice.

Goods vehicles and taxis are being routinely stopped and searched.

Refugees in Brandenburg
Refugees are seen on the grounds of the arrival centre of the initial reception facility of the eastern German state of Brandenburg in Eisenhuettenstadt. Photo: JENS SCHLUETER / AFP

The influx has also provided fuel for Germany’s anti-migration movement, especially since the far-right AfD achieved some of its best results in last month’s general election in the eastern regions of the country bordering Poland and the Czech Republic.

Police last weekend broke up around a rally of around 50 activists from the radical far-right group “The Third Way” (Der III. Weg), which had called for its members to gather to take action against migrants seeking to cross the border from Poland.

READ ALSO: Germany to step up checks as far-right activists target Polish border

Other such initiatives were also reported in neighbouring Saxony.

During the operation, police seized pepper spray, a bayonet, a machete and batons.

By Florian Cazeres

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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

In Sweden, a sambo is domestic partner – someone you’re in a relationship with and live with, but to whom you aren’t married. If you, as a non-EU citizen, are in a sambo relationship with a Swedish citizen, you can apply for a residence permit on the basis of that relationship. But meeting the requirements of that permit is not always straightforward.

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

An American reader, whose son lives with his Swedish partner, wrote to The Local with questions about the maintenance requirement her son and his partner must meet in order to qualify for a sambo resident permit.

“Their specific issue is that they meet the requirements for a stable relationship and stable housing, but have been told that qualifying for a sambo visa based on savings is unlikely,” she wrote, asking for suggestions on how to approach this issue. Her son’s partner is a student with no income, but whose savings meet maintenance requirements. But, they have been told by lawyers that Migrationsverket will likely deny the application based on the absence of the Swedish partner’s income.

How do relationships qualify for sambo status?

In order to apply for a residence permit on the basis of a sambo relationship, you and your partner must either be living together, or plan to live together as soon as the non-Swedish partner can come to Sweden. Because this reader’s son is already in Sweden as a graduate student, he can apply for a sambo permit without having to leave the country, provided that his student permit is still valid at the time the new application is submitted.

The Migration Agency notes that “you can not receive a residence permit for the reason that you want to live with a family member in Sweden before your current permit expires”. So once your valid permit is close to expiration, you can apply for a new sambo permit.

What are the maintenance requirements for a sambo permit?

The maintenance requirements for someone applying for a sambo permit fall on the Swedish partner, who must prove that they are able to support both themselves and their partner for the duration of the permit. This includes both housing and financial requirements.

In terms of residential standards that applicants must meet, they must show that they live in a home of adequate size – for two adult applicants without children, that means at least one room with a kitchen. If rented, the lease must be for at least one year.

The financial requirements are more complicated. The Swedish partner must be able to document a stable income that can support the applicant and themselves – for a sambo couple, the 2022 standard is an income of 8,520 kronor per month. This burden falls on the Swedish partner.

While the Migration Agency’s website does say that you may “fulfil the maintenance requirement (be considered able to support yourself) if you have enough money/taxable assets to support yourself, other persons in your household and the family members who are applying for a residence permit for at least two years”, it is unclear how proof of this would be documented. On a separate page detailing the various documents that can be used to prove that maintenance requirements are met, there is nothing about how to document savings that will be used to support the couple.

Can you apply on the basis of savings instead of income?

Well, this is unclear. The Migration Agency’s website does suggest that having enough money saved up to support both members of the sambo relationship is an option, but it gives no details on how to document this. It is also unclear whether applying on the basis of savings will disadvantage applicants, with preference given to applicants who can show proof of income from work.

The Local has reached out to an immigration lawyer to answer this question. 

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