Deportation as a deterrent? Rising refugee numbers have put the German government under pressure. Now, it plans to step up deportations of rejected asylum seekers as part of a tougher migration policy.
The increasing number of migrants and refugees and the low number of deportations has become a major political issue in Germany, with the right-wing populists capitalizing on the anti-immigrant sentiment.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a tougher asylum policy in a major interview with Germany's Spiegel magazine, in which he promised, "We must finally deport on a large scale those who have no right to stay in Germany." He called it unacceptable that deportation procedures often drag on for years.
Now, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, a Social Democrat like the chancellor, wants to follow through on the pledge and has presented a bill that has been approved by the federal cabinet. She told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that the reform of deportation procedures was only one step in a series of migration policies. "We are ensuring that people without the right to stay have to leave our country more quickly. In this way, we are strengthening society's support for the reception of refugees in Germany," she said.
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She said the restrictive measures ensuring more and faster repatriations were necessary so Germany could fulfill its humanitarian responsibility for those needing protection from war and terror. "To protect the fundamental right to asylum, we must significantly limit irregular migration," Faeser said.
New rules for deportations
Faeser's bill provides for more powers for authorities to enforce deportations, especially of criminals and people smugglers. The bill's main points are:
- Authorities will no longer notify individuals in advance of their imminent deportation, with the exception of families with young children.
- In cases where the person in question lives in shared accommodation, police will be allowed to enter and search rooms other than the bedroom of the individual. According to the authorities, people have often evaded deportation by hiding in shared accommodation.
- If a person does not have a passport to show, the authorities will also be able to search their private cell phone or lockers to establish their identity.
- The maximum period of detention prior to deportation will be extended from 10 to 28 days to give the authorities more time to prepare for deportation.
- Members of organized criminal groups in Germany can be deported, regardless of whether they have been convicted of a crime.
Germany's high number of refugees
Germany has taken in more than a million people seeking protection from President Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine. On top of that, some 244,000 people from other countries applied for asylum last year; this year, that number could rise to 300,000.
But even those who have no grounds for political asylum or refugee status can often not be repatriated if there is no country willing to take them in, their country of origin is a war zone or they themselves have serious health issues that cannot be treated in their countries of origin. Some people simply cannot be tracked down by authorities. Over 200,000 people fall into one of these categories.
According to the Interior Ministry, by the end of September, there were around 255,000 people living in Germany who were obliged to leave the country, of whom around 205,000 have a "tolerated status" (called a Duldung in German), meaning they are theoretically obliged to leave the country but cannot be deported.
According to the German Interior Ministry, by the end of September, 12,000 people had been returned to their countries of origin. Faeser now wants to speed up deportations. "Those who have no right to stay in Germany must leave our country again," she said.
Conservative opposition approves
The bill will need approval by the federal parliament, the Bundestag. The main opposition party, the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), has signaled consent, calling the bill a first tiny step in the right direction. The parliamentary group leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), Alice Weidel described the Interior Minister's bill as a copy of her party's demands: "Out of sheer panic, AfD demands are now being adopted," she claimed.
The plans have found a more mixed response within the governing coalition, particularly the Green Party. "In our view, these are massive encroachments on fundamental rights," said Green Party lawmaker Filiz Polat. "The right of deportation is to be tightened — in my opinion, disproportionately and too severely."
Human rights organizations have criticized the extension of the detention period as inhuman. The NGO Pro Asyl said that injuries and suicides have become more likely in "deportation detention." Another NGO, Terre des Hommes, feared: "Children and young people are threatened by the planned tightening of the law forcing them to live a life in permanent fear of deportation."
Migration expert Gerald Knaus was skeptical that German authorities would now deport many of the rejected asylum seekers who have the so-called tolerated status. "The idea that you can get those, some of whom have been here for years, out of Germany and into other countries by deporting them is illusory," Knaus told DW.
Negotiating with countries of origin
Knaus believes that the planned measures are sensible in principle. "But migration agreements are much more important," he says, referring to cooperation with states that take back those who are obliged to leave Germany. In view of rising refugee numbers, Chancellor Scholz had announced that deals would be made with several countries: "We will conclude agreements with countries from which refugees come who cannot stay," Scholz said. Negotiations with Georgia, Moldova, Kenya, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are underway.
But several countries are unwilling to take back their citizens, according to Knaus. He points to Nigeria, Zambia and Iraq as examples. So the planned stricter rules on deportation are only a first step and will hardly be an effective deterrent, he said: "If the goal is to reduce irregular migration to Germany, then one can doubt for many reasons that this will succeed."
Author Volker Witting
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