German Interior Minister proposes visa ban for Russian athletes

Nancy Faeser says that if Russian and Belarusian athletes are once again allowed to compete in international competitions, they may be banned from entering the country to attend competitions on German soil.

German interior minister Nancy Faeser
Interior Minister Nancy Faeser says a 2036 Olympics hosted in Berlin would have to be dealt with in a special way. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

With the International Olympic Committee (IOC) having now recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes be allowed back into international competitions again, Faeser is criticizing the sports body — calling the recommendation “unacceptable” for Ukrainian athletes.

Although Germany cannot contest the IOC recommendation itself, or those other athletic governing bodies make, Faeser says a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from entering the country would stop them from being able to attend competitions taking place here.

“Countries in which major sporting events take place are not powerless,” the Interior Minister told Germany’s Funke group of newspapers, saying Ukrainian athletes should not have to face off against competitors from a country that is engaged in a war against Ukrainian civilians. “Offering the warmonger Putin a propaganda stage would betray all values of the sport.”

The IOC has put conditions on Russian and Belarusian athletes returning to competition, saying they must not be connected to Russian security agencies or the military, and must compete under a neutral flag with no national anthem.

READ ALSO: Germany to open Olympic bases to Ukrainian athletes

However, international sporting federations are divided on the issue. The World Wrestling Association and World Gymnastics Federation argue Russian and Belarusian athletes should be readmitted. Governing bodies for athletics and equestrian say the athletes should remain barred from competing.

Regardless of what individual sporting federations decide, Faeser says Germany will still look at visa bans for Russian and Belarusian athletes.

“If we organize international competitions in Germany, then we can act accordingly,” Faeser said. “We will always act with a clear stance here.”

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German politicians want to cut benefits for Ukrainian refugees

A growing number of FDP and CDU/CSU politicians have called for the end of Bürgergeld - Germany's long-term unemployment benefit - for Ukrainian refugees. Here's the background on the debate.

German politicians want to cut benefits for Ukrainian refugees

FDP Secretary General Bijan Djir-Sarai is calling for reduced state benefits for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian war of aggression to Germany. 

“Newly arriving war refugees from Ukraine should no longer receive Bürgergeld in the future, but should fall under the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act,” FDP Secretary General Bijan Djir-Sarai told the Bild newspaper.

Similar demands have repeatedly come from the conservative CDU/CSU as well as the pro-business Free Democratic (FDP) parliamentary group.

Bürgergeld, or citizens’ allowance is a long-term unemployment benefit which amounts to €563 per month. It is granted to Ukrainian refugees when they register in Germany if they are unemployed, as opposed to a €460 per month benefit which is granted to all other asylum seekers who successfully apply for it. 

Other asylum seekers also face more obstacles entering the labour market. 

What’s the debate around Bürgergeld for Ukrainian refugees?

Brandenburg’s Interior Minister Michael Stübgen (CDU) criticised the payment of citizen’s allowance to Ukrainian refugees, suggesting that the benefit disincentivises incoming Ukrainians from taking up work. 

FDP’s Djir-Sarai told Bild: “We have a shortage of workers everywhere – for example in gastronomy, construction or care. We should no longer finance unemployment with taxpayers’ money, but must ensure that people get into work.”

The labour market policy spokesman for the SPD, Martin Rosemann, disagrees, countering that citizen’s allowance and access to Germany’s job centres gives Ukrainian refugees the necessary support they need to access the labour market.

According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), 80 percent of Ukrainian refugees in Germany are women. Just under half of these live with children who are minors, and the majority have no partner with them.

Last autumn, the German government announced an effort to enable refugees to find work more quickly. The plan involved placing 400,000 refugees in jobs directly from their language courses, including around 200,000 from Ukraine. According to figures from April, about 160,000 Ukrainian refugees have been brought into work since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression.

Recent EU election results showed a strengthening of far-right and far-left parties that have been critical of Germany’s economic and military support of Ukraine. 

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS – What do Germany’s far-right gains in EU elections mean for foreigners?

Whereas support for Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees has been largely supported by members of the traffic-light coalition, some members of CDU/CSU and FDP parties may be repositioning themselves on the issue in light of a perceived shift in public opinion.

Different systems for refugees in Germany 

Since the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine, some have criticised what they see as a two-tiered asylum system in Germany, where war refugees coming from countries such as Syria, West Asia or Africa face a longer and more complicated asylum-seeking procedure.

One example of this is seen in the granting of citizen’s allowance. Refugees from Ukraine have been able to receive basic security benefits in Germany since June 2022 (then Hartz IV, now citizen’s allowance) – instead of the lower benefits granted by the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act. 

According to state and federal actors, the reason for this difference was that refugees from Ukraine are directly entitled to a residence permit and do not have to wait for a decision, as is the case with asylum seekers.

Ukrainians who land in Germany are also permitted to work immediately. As with other residents, they are only entitled to Bürgergeld if they have low income or no income.

READ ALSO: ‘Happy to work here’ – How refugees in Germany are helping labour shortage

With reporting by DPA.