Germany’s ruling parties on Thursday overcame their rivalry ahead of federal elections in September to approve a slew of asylum laws that will allow authorities to more easily deport, monitor and obtain the personal data of asylum seekers.
The legislation comes as both Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats led by her rival Martin Schulz target immigration and security as top issues in the coming election.
But the new laws have drawn sharp criticism from opposition parties, refugee activists and other groups concerned about bending Germany’s privacy rules, among the strictest in the world, and disenfranchising migrants.
Earlier in the year, the federal and state governments proposed an array of measures to tighten asylum processes, in the wake of the some 1.2 million asylum-seekers who have entered the country since 2015. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière referred to the Bundestag’s move to turn the various proposals into enforceable laws as “the final step” the federal parliament would take on asylum issues in the current legislative period.
In many cases, the new laws pack a bite. Authorities can now issue deportation papers to rejected asylum seekers deemed a security threat even without assurance that they will be repatriated within three months. That means migrants could receive their orders to leave Germany even if their country of origin fails to provide the necessary documentation.
In many cases, the new laws pack a bite
The new law was triggered in large part after Tunisia initially denied and blocked the return of the rejected asylum seeker Anis Amri, who plowed a truck into a crowded Christmas market in December, killing 12 and seriously injuring dozens more. A new travel document that would have made the 24-year-old Tunisian’s deportation possible arrived two days after the attack.
Also included in the new legislation: Asylum seekers suspected of being a security threat can be monitored with an electronic tracking bracelet, and officials with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, or BAMF, can access cellphones and other electronic devices to verify the identities of those without official identification papers. Rejected applicants who do not leave Germany voluntarily or give false information about their identity can expect personal restrictions on their mobility, and those with no prospects of receiving asylum must remain in registration-center facilities until their asylum process is completed.
No less important, the new legislation will ease the exchange of data between state authorities and the Federal Criminal Police Office, the BKA.
While Maria Scharlau with the Berlin-based arm of Amnesty International attacked the government’s move to access migrants’ phones as a “major encroachment into the privacy of tens of thousands of people,” the refugee aid organization Pro Asyl warned the new laws would “change Germany from being a host country to one focused on deporting new arrivals.” And the social welfare organization AWO voiced concern about many migrants becoming disenfranchised.
Next week, the leaders of the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister-party, the Christian Social Union, will meet to agree on a position paper that gives security a top spot in their election campaign. The paper, obtained by the news agency DPA, calls for ending the blockade by the Greens and the Left Party to declare the Mahgreb states – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya – as “safe” countries, meaning that citizens in those countries have no right to seek asylum.
The paper also calls for giving authorities greater access to online services like Whatsapp, creating a legal basis to monitor encrypted communications and promoting a greater sharing of data at the European level.
Missing from the paper, however, is any talk of capping the annual number of refugees seeking asylum. Horst Seehofer, the CDU party leader, has pushed hard for such a limit, which Ms. Merkel has repeatedly rejected.
Domestic security is also high on the agenda of Mr. Schulz who needs to rejuvenate his party after losing three state elections back to back. The stinging defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia, a Social Democratic stronghold, badly bruised him and the party.
As Mr. Schulz, who once dreamt of becoming a professional soccer player, admitted after the humiliating defeat in NRW: “Sometimes you get clobbered, sometimes you win.” With an offensive strategy on security, he clearly hopes to score points with voters.
John Blau is a senior editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org