Berlin picks up the pace of deportations

New rules allow for expedited deportations of applicants viewed as a security threat

 An aircraft is  prepared so it can take deportees   Afghanistan from  the airport at Munich in Germany. Photograph: Sebastian Widmann/EPA

An aircraft is prepared so it can take deportees Afghanistan from the airport at Munich in Germany. Photograph: Sebastian Widmann/EPA


Two years after Germany accepted almost a million asylum seekers, and six months before the federal elections, Berlin has picked up the pace on deportations. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet this week agreed tighter asylum rules to allow expedited deportations, insisting that removing failed applicants is an inherent part of the asylum process and essential to prioritise resources for those who need them.

The new rules allow for expedited deportations of applicants viewed as a security threat, increased use of electronic foot tags and deportation prisons to prevent them disappearing. As the public mood in Germany cools towards those seeking refugee status, the new deportation rules go hand in hand with tighter anti-terrorism laws rushed through after December’s Christmas market attacks in Berlin.

Days after the attack that left 12 dead, it emerged that the perpetrator, Tunisian man Anis Amri, had arrived in Germany in 2015, used at least a dozen aliases and was still in the country despite being listed as a security threat and having a failed asylum application. Stung by public criticism, the Merkel government has moved quickly to address what it sees as long-standing shortcomings in immigration laws.

“It is part of a rule of law that legal asylum denial papers are acted on,” said Joachim Herrmann, Bavarian interior minister after Wednesday evening’s flight to Afghanistan. Onboard the plane to Kabul were 18 Afghan men from all over Germany, the Bavarian authorities said, mostly single men and some with a criminal record.

Estimated cost

Originally 50 asylum seekers had been intended for the flight, but five sought asylum in churches, three deportations were stopped by courts while all others vanished, according to the Bild daily. On board the Munich flight with the 18 remaining passengers, the tabloid noted, were 68 special police, two doctors and a translator. “The estimated cost of the flight: €100,000,” it noted.

Immigration authorities have complained for years that deportations have not kept pace with the increase in the number of asylum applications in recent years. In 2011 about 50,000 applications were filed in Germany and almost 8,000 people were deported in the same year. The 2016 number of asylum applications was four times that while deportations were 11,000.

German immigration authorities say the problems are manifold: a lack of manpower, the difficulty locating failed asylum seekers who go into hiding or get medical certificates to stay, and bureaucratic difficulties with countries of origin. Additional rules agreed by the Berlin cabinet this week ends a practice of informing failed asylum seekers that their “tolerated” status has been revoked.

And new arrivals who have no papers or fail to assist in ascertaining their identity can have their mobile phones searched for identity clues.

Blanket deportations

Berlin authorities insist the new rules will not result in blanket deportations but reflect how there can be no blanket right to asylum either.

Refugee rights organisation Pro Asyl attacked a “brutalisation of the deportation process . . . aimed at discouraging” people heading for Germany.

“I’m completely against deportations to Afghanistan because there are no safe areas there,” said Jana Weidhaase, spokeswoman for the 400 protesters in Munich on Wednesday. “What we see here is just electioneering.”

Federal and state authorities are divided between citizens demanding tighter migration controls and vocal critics of deportations in all circumstances. This week several left-wing state governments refused to hand over failed asylum seekers under their jurisdiction for return to Afghanistan, citing the same safety concerns as the Munich demonstrators.

Ahead of September’s election Dr Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), still divided over her open-door asylum policy in 2015, is anxious to win back its traditional law-and-order profile. But public dissatisfaction with Dr Merkel’s party, in power for 12 years, is clear from a new ARD public television poll showing the Social Democratic Party with a narrow lead over her CDU for the first time since 2006.

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