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Syrian baby named ‘Angela Merkel’ refused asylum in Germany

The Washington Post The Washington Post 26/11/2016 Adam Taylor
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts following a signing ceremony of collaboration contracts between the German Football Association (DFB) and the Chinese Football Association at the Chancellery in Berlin on Nov. 25. © Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts following a signing ceremony of collaboration contracts between the German Football Association (DFB) and the Chinese Football Association at the Chancellery in Berlin on Nov. 25.

Late last year, a Syrian woman gave birth to a girl at a former hospital that had been repurposed into a refugee shelter in Duisburg, Germany. She and her husband had only recently arrived in Germany and wanted to honor their new home.

So, they named their daughter Angela Merkel. “We want to thank you for being here,” the mother, Tema Al-Hamza, later told the Westdeutsche Zeitung. “Germany is like a mother to us.”

Al-Hamza's daughter is one of a number of refugee children who have been named after the German chancellor in recent years. Merkel's willingness to support refugees has made her a hero to Syrians in particular, more than 1 million of whom entered the country in 2015 alone.

But less than a month before the infant's first birthday, the Al-Hamza family's future in their adopted country isn't looking so sure. According to the Bild newspaper, the family was told their asylum application had been rejected by Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

“The letter made me very frightened,” father Mamon Al-Hamza told the Bild.

Instead, the Al-Hamza family has been offered “subsidiary protection,” a separate legal status that protects people from deportation for an initial period of one year but does not allow them to bring their family to Germany. They may stay longer if they are shown to be working and learning German to a sufficient level.

In the past, almost all Syrians in Germany were granted refugee status under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. However, this week, a top German court ruled that all Syrians could not automatically be defined as refugees and should be offered subsidiary protection instead. “There are no indications that the Syrian state puts everyone under general suspicion of belonging to the opposition,” judge Uta Strzyz told the court on Wednesday, Deutsche Welle reported. Each case must be considered by German authorities individually, the court said.

The move marks a break from the accepted procedure across much of the world, whereby Syrians are granted refugee status even though the actual wording of the U.N. Refugee Convention focuses on political or ethnic persecution rather than the risks associated with a civil war. While almost all Syrians were granted refugee status in Germany in 2015, only a few of those who have applied received the status in 2016, according to German broadcaster n-tv.

A spokesman for Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees told the Bild that the Al-Hamza family had their refugee status rejected as they had passed through a third country on their way from Syria to Germany. Asylum seekers are technically encouraged to seek asylum in the first safe country they enter.

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