Refugee Crisis

Chancellor Must Act on Deportations

Flüchtlinge an der griechisch-mazedonischen Grenze
Refugees poured into Germany last year.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    As support for refugees erodes in much of Germany, the government’s failure to deport many failed asylum seekers has become a political liability.

  • Facts


    • About 890,000 refugees entered Germany last year, mostly Syrians. The original, widely discussed figure of 1.1 million was revised by the German government in September after discounting double registrations and refugees who moved to other countries.
    • This year, more than 220,000 people were obligated to leave Germany by the end of May. However, only 11,300 deportations were carried out.
    • In the first three quarters of this year, 216,000 refugees have sought asylum in Germany. But the Ministry of the Interior still grapples with a heavy backlog and many asylum applications are still being processed.
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There is no lack of strong language concerning the deportation of rejected asylum seekers. Chancellor Angela Merkel recently called for an “act of national exertion.”

Passing the buck back and forth between the federal and state governments doesn’t help because citizens want to see results, not words. But whoever attentively follows the debate finds confirmation for the dwarfish stature of this constitutional democracy.

This is already true with the fine legal distinction between deportation and expulsion. Whoever thinks that is merely hairsplitting among legal experts is mistaken. There is a great difference with regard to whether an applicant who has been refused asylum must ultimately leave Germany or not.

A chancellor calling for tougher measures regarding deportations has to make good on her promise.

By the end of May this year, more than 220,000 people were obligated to leave the country, including 52,000 who didn’t even have exceptional leave to remain, according to the Federal Interior Ministry. The figures contrast starkly with the mere 11,300 deportations in the first five months of the year. The asylum seekers are sick or have disappeared or lost their passports. Between the start of 2015 and the end of June 2016, more than 600 deportations by airplane were canceled at the last moment.

The arguments that lawyers make against deportation are legally impeccable. For example: A rejected asylum seeker presents a medically issued sickness certificate to police officers, who in many places first became exasperated long ago. They have no response to make. No one can be deported in such a condition. But the impression that many individuals are using this ploy as a pretext is unavoidable.

This is not a phenomenon limited solely to asylum seekers. The management of the TUIfly airline was recently surprised how quickly half its workforce could suddenly become sick, a situation that appeared part of a labor-related action. Both company and government are powerless in such a situation.

An evaluation is difficult in the case of asylum seekers. Ultimately the interior minister can decide who is healthy and who is ill. The diagnosis should always be in the hands of a doctor. But it is legitimate to remind doctors of their Hippocratic oath.

Deportations are a sensitive subject in any circumstance. As with criminal asylum seekers, an examination must be made in every case as to what people might face in their country of origin. An asylum process doesn’t automatically end with a criminal verdict in Germany if the applicant can expect to be tortured or executed in his or her home country.

But the authorities must not be permitted to take cover behind a jurisdictional battle between the federal and state governments. A chancellor calling for tougher measures regarding deportations has to make good on her promise. Empty announcements don’t enhance confidence in the rule of law – they undermine it.

The government looks weak even though surveys show that a majority of citizens expect strength and resolve in this regard. What holds a community together? In part, the rules of the game that have been agreed upon. If these rules are no longer valid, then any community loses the basis of its social contract.

In everyday life, citizens experience how quickly and efficiently the government can act, for instance in collecting fines for parking violations. Everyone has seen officials waiting next to a car for the parking period to expire so that they can write a ticket.

Tax authorities are quick as lighting when the citizen has to pay. If he or she has to make a payment, the deadline is printed neatly on the first page of the certificate. If the deadline isn’t met, an arrears fee is unavoidable. But if a citizen is to receive money, for example over an inheritance, they have to wait months in some German states.

Another example: The consequences are dire for anyone who doesn’t pay the obligatory charges for public television, even if he or she finds the level of public broadcasting to be below par.

Many things must change to avoid the widespread belief that the government plays a double game. The rules apply to some people but not to others.

Ms. Merkel won’t get a grip on the problem of deportations through mere rhetoric. With regard to the refugee crisis, she took power away from the interior minister and made the issue her own. If she were serious, now would be the time to do the same with deportations.

The federal and individual states’ interior ministers are incapable of handling the matter. The security authorities aren’t prepared for the sheer number of new tasks, or they lack sufficient personnel. That things aren’t working with deportations is only a symbol for many other shortcomings regarding domestic security issues.

The government has to change if it wants to fulfill these new tasks. Readjustments are often not enough. Politicians are in the debt of police officers who have to carry out a difficult job. But no strategy is in sight.


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