The process of regaining German citizenship for descendants of people persecuted by the Nazis will be eased, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced on Thursday.
He said that he had issued a decree to specifically overturn the rejections pertaining to descendants of women who fled Nazi Germany and lost their citizenship after marrying non-German men.
“Germany must face up to its historical responsibility towards those who, as the descendants of German citizens who were persecuted by the Nazis, have faced legal obstacles to citizenship, especially those whose parents or grandparents were forced to flee abroad”, Seehofer pointed out.
UK Group Appeals to Berlin Over Citizenship Policy
The move comes after the Article 116 Exclusions Group, a British-based campaign organisation, appealed to the German government and urged it to provide moral and ethical justification for its citizenship policies, pledging to take legal action if necessary.
“We have been to Germany and raised awareness with all parties apart from the Alternative for Germany (AfD). It was interesting to see that most of the parties didn't know about it and we needed to explain to them what was wrong, but they were by and large very supporting,” Felix Couchman, one of the founders of the Article 116 Exclusions Group, told Deutsche Welle.
The group, which takes its name from the section of German Constitution that stipulates restoration of citizenship, has repeatedly pointed to hundreds of descendants who unsuccessfully applied for German citizenship after the 2016 UK’s EU referendum to retain their rights as the bloc’s nationals.
Article 116 stipulates that the descendants of Jews or others who faced religious or political persecution are eligible for restoration of their German citizenship. However, the past decades have seen thousands of cases of rejection, with people being told that their claims were made through a female descendant or because of adoption.
Speaking to the Guardian, 116 Group member Nicholas Courtman has welcomed Berlin’s decision but lamented the fact that the move did not lead to a change in Germany’s basic law.
“It’s good to see the German government taking action on this after decades of inaction and dissatisfactory, needlessly restrictive measures. The decree issued by the interior ministry is a good step on the way to legislative change but an equal and fair treatment of all descendants can only be achieved through a change in the law,” he said.
Courtman also recalled that Seehofer’s decree excluded those living in Germany, pointing to an absurd situation when “it will be faster, cheaper and easier for them to move outside of Germany and apply from there.”
Additionally, he emphasised that it would be wrong to “reduce this to a Brexit issue alone [because] it is so much more than that”.
At least 17,000 Britons reportedly applied for German citizenship between 2016 and 2018, as compared to about 5,000 British residents doing so in the fifteen previous years.