Merkel presses Tunisia on taking back failed asylum-seekers

Chancellor and Tunisian leader seek common ground while visiting market attack site

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Tunisian prime minister Youssef Chahed lay flowers at the site of the Christmas market attack in Berlin. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Tunisian prime minister Youssef Chahed lay flowers at the site of the Christmas market attack in Berlin. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

 

Angela Merkel has pressed Tunisia to expedite the repatriation of failed asylum seekers, eight weeks after the deadly Christmas market attack in Berlin.

On Tuesday the German chancellor and her Tunisian counterpart, Youssef Chahed, visited Breitscheidplatz, where 12 people died after Tunisian man Anis Amri hijacked a truck and crashed it into the Christmas market.

Amri had left Tunisia in 2011 and, after serving prison time in Italy, sought asylum in Germany in 2015. His application was refused but, a year later, he had yet to be deported because of clerical errors, multiple aliases and bureaucratic hurdles involved in getting a replacement passport on the Tunisian side.

In talks in Berlin, Dr Merkel said she and Mr Chahed agreed a greater effort was required to ensure that those who are obliged to leave, do so.

“We have to make clear that whoever does not agree to a voluntary return, then we have to do it involuntarily and we have to get faster at this,” she said. At present, about 1,500 Tunisians with failed asylum applications have yet to leave Germany.

Mr Chahed said his country was horrified by the December attack on Breitscheidplatz, saying: “Amri in no way represents Tunisia.”

The case of Anis Amri caused bilateral tensions in the weeks after the attack. Berlin blamed Tunisia for delays issuing a replacement passport required for deportation, which arrived two days after the attack. But Tunis said the delay was caused by errors in the Germans’ passport application.

Talk on camps

Dr Merkel used the visit to press the Tunisian leader to agree to so-called reception camps in his country.

Berlin presents the proposal as a way to put out of business the human traffickers behind over 4,600 Mediterranean drowning deaths. But the chancellor and her visitor both know the plan’s other motivation: a race to prevent a second Anis Amri attack on German soil, in particular with September’s federal election looming.

Mr Chahed was cautious on the reception camp idea during a press conference with the chancellor, but signalled a willingness to discuss the idea as part of a wider “Marshall Plan” deal for northern Africa states.

Last week Tunisia signed a bilateral migration agreement with Italy amid growing opposition in Tunisia to take back potentially dangerous Islamic State militants.

“When Anis Amri left Tunisia in 2011, he was not a terrorist. There were no clues that he would radicalise,” said the prime minister. “He radicalised first in prison in Italy.”

It is unclear if Tunisia will eventually sign up to the latest EU migration plan, agreed in Malta, to tackle illegal immigration across the Mediterranean.

Libyans make up the largest number of people coming into the EU and landing in Italy via this route – 180,000 last year. Rather than leave Italy to deal with them alone, EU leaders have proposed returning them to Africa for processing. Given the instability in Libya, however, they would like Egypt and Tunisia to be host countries.