Reunification and the Bosnian Crisis

Germany’s reunification in 1990 ushered in a new era in the nation’s position in the world.  West Germany retained much of its character, and it kept its name.  Essentially, it absorbed the five “new” states from former East Germany into the Federal Republic of Germany.  Berlin, reunited, serves as the capital.  Most importantly, the reunited German states recognized the West German Grundgesetz as their constitution.  With reunification came constitutional amendments.  Article 23 in particular saw changes.  Here, the 1949 Grundgesetz included provisions for other parts of Germany (namely, East German states) to ratify it.[1]  Reunification accomplished this, and so Article 23 was scrapped.  The present-day Article 23 provides for Germany’s participation in the European Union.[2]

Aside from political changes, Germany’s reunification and subsequent membership in the European Union brought about changes in terms of immigration.  The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union mandates freedom of movement throughout Europe.[3]  In 1993, the German legislature amended Article 16 of Grundgesetz, placing limits on the once very unrestricted right to asylum found in the article.  It closed the right to asylum for members of the European Union.  It also provided for the legal expulsion of refugees after the threats to them had been determined to have passed. Concurrently, instability and war in former Yugoslavia brought a wave of asylum seekers to Germany’s doorstep.  These refugees were not granted “refugee” status, but rather came under “temporary protection” from the German state. [4]  After the end of the Bosian war, Germany endeavored to send the refugees back to Bosnia/Herzegovina amid “fierce resistance by opposition groups who protested these repatriations as violative of non-refoulement principles.”  In other words, many believed that by working to repatriate Bosnian refugees, Germany was endangering those asylum-seekers.  [5]  German news organization Deutsche Welle compared the Bosnian refugee situation of the 1990s to the refugee crisis of today in an article published in February 2016.  In the article, DW interviewed Bernd Mesovic, who is the deputy director of Pro Asyl, a German human rights organization which specializes in asylum and immigration concerns.[6]  He termed the repatriation of Bosnian refugees “a second banishment,” and warned “that is important to avoid creating exactly the same kind of victims among refugees from Syria and Iraq.”[7]

[1] Grundgesetz, Art 23, 1949
[2] Grundgesetz, Article 23
[3] Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Article 45
[4] Jon C. Graf, “Has El Dorado Crumbled So Soon After Its Cornerstone Was Laid?: The State of International Refugee Law and the Repatriation of Bosnians in Germany,” Indiana International & Comparative Law Review 10, no. 1 (September 22, 1999), 115.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Marina Martinovic, “Refugees Reloaded – Lessons from Germany’s Approach to Bosnian War,” Deutsche Welle.
[7] Ibid.