Military Transports

Report: Germany to Speed Deportations

Lageso, German police, man tent source imago
Thousands of refugees are waiting to be registered at Berlin's Lageso processing center.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany is struggling to deal with an influx of refugees and the government is reportedly considering measures to deport people faster if their asylum applications are turned down.

  • Facts


    • Of the 42,000 people who failed to reach asylum status in Germany in the first half of this year.
    • Of these, only 8,200 have been deported, and the European Union wants to know why.
    • The E.U. border agency is supposed to help member states organize deportation flights.
  • Audio


  • Pdf

The German government is preparing to speed up the deportation of people who are not eligible for refugee asylum, according to media reports.

The measures, which would involve the military for the first time in the country’s crisis, was first reported by the German newspaper Bild.

Pilots from the German military and Transall military transport aircraft would be used to man extra flights, according to Bild, which attributed the information to sources close to the federal and state governments. The defense ministry denied knowledge of the plan, saying German states are in charge of repatriation.

If true, refugees may no longer be warned in advance of their pending deportations, the newspaper reported, and could be sent back year round, rather than only in temperate months as is currently the case, the report said.

The German government is planning to set up transit zones, which would be areas along the country’s borders where asylum seekers must stay while their applications are processed before entering the country. Germany wants to sign agreements with more countries to speed the repatriation process. Under the new rules, Germany may also move to restrict a refugee’s right to contest a denied asylum application.

Germany is struggling to cope with the flood of refugees fleeing war and poverty, and so far, the government expects to accept up to 800,000 this year, far more than any country in Europe or the United States.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is increasingly under fire for refusing to set a numerical limit on the number of refugees Germany will accept. A survey of German business executives conducted by Handelsblatt reveals that most executives do not support Ms. Merkel’s open-ended refugee policy.

Concern is mounting in Germany over how to house all of the refugees and deal with the lengthy delays in processing them. According to the Bild report, the government will deal with one aspect of the refugee crisis in each cabinet meeting.

Germany’s federal states are responsible for deportations but so far have sent only a small portion of people denied asylum back to their home countries, for varying reasons.

“I often have to tear out those who have made the most progress in becoming integrated.”

Government official

Klaus Schmidt, a government official (who declined to give his real name), is one of the people involved in the deportation process – day in, day out.

Mr. Schmidt’s thoughts keep turning to a man from the Balkan country of Macedonia that he had to deport. “He took his two nieces to school each day and picked them up again in the afternoon,” he said. “He also learned German.”

It was clear, though, that the man from Macedonia would not be allowed to stay in Germany; he would be deported as soon as possible. One morning at 6, Mr. Schmidt stood at the man’s door, watching as he boarded a bus for the airport, to be passed on to the police and sent back. Days later, Mr. Schmidt said, the deportee’s nieces called the fire department to break open the man’s front door. “They thought their uncle had died.”

In moments like this, Germany’s culture of welcome meets the rule of law. Mr. Schmidt’s job is to deal with deportations for the Düsseldorf region’s registration office for foreigners. He doesn’t only handle the paperwork but also has to carry out the deportations himself, with the aid of the police when necessary.

“It’s the worst job I can imagine,” said Mr. Schmidt, who has a degree in public administration. He had actually applied for another position – he wanted to be responsible for naturalization ceremonies.

Newcomers to Germany who face persecution in their home countries are usually allowed to stay, while economic migrants are usually sent back.

But Germany has failed to handle the challenge so far. Of the more than 170,000 applications for asylum filed in the first half of 2015, 42,000 were ultimately rejected. But only about 8,200 of those people have been deported to date.


police oversee refugees Gregor fischer dpa
Refugees enter the center for processing their applications as police stand guard. Source: Gregor Fischer, DPA


Given the unbroken stream of refugees, the problem is getting worse. About 115,000 refugees with “tolerated” resident status are living in Germany, and the number is rising. Added to that are people facing deportation but who seemingly drop off the radar.

Since 2009, the European Union’s 28 member states are required to send rejected applicants back to their homelands. Germany has shown reluctance and in September, the de-facto E.U. capital of Brussels sent a letter to the German government asking for an explanation. Germany has yet to respond.

The E.U. also sent notices to Greece and Italy because of their deficiencies in repatriations. On the other hand, countries such as the Baltic states, Poland and Romania, who have resisted efforts by Germany to more evenly distribute refugees across the continent, are rigorous at deportations.

In spring, the European Commission warned that the inadequate E.U. system of repatriation of illegal migrants presented an incentive for such illegal migration. Earlier this month, E.U. interior ministers decided to intensify repatriation. The E.U. border control agency, Frontex, is supposed to help member states organize deportation flights. The number planned for this month: about 10.

“That’s good, but not enough,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the E.U. commissioner for migration and home affairs.

Other practical problems exist. Until now, E.U. member states haven’t been systematically exchanging information about deportation decisions and entry bans. That means refugees can avoid their deportation by migrating to another country within the Schengen area, the bloc of 26 European nations that have abolished passport and other controls at their shared internal borders.

In Germany, the challenges start with people working for local governments, such as Mr. Schmidt. They wield authority. The refugees usually stay a maximum of three months in the federal states’ initial reception centers. After that they are divided among the municipalities. It’s a humane way to provide shelter and housing, but along with the long processing, a dilemma is created.

“I often have to tear out those who have made the most progress in becoming integrated,” Mr. Schmidt said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has even admitted: “As soon as an asylum seeker arrives in the municipalities, deportation becomes difficult.”

For that reason, many foreigners’ registration offices in Germany are overwhelmed. In 73 percent of the asylum procedures, the applicants have no identity papers. That number increases again if applicants are rejected. By contrast, papers will sometimes appear if applicants are accepted, according to an internal report by a work group appointed by the federal government and the states. The report found that “in the experience of foreigners’ registration offices, it is a well-known standard phenomenon that the proper papers suddenly appear when circumstances arise justifying a legal right to a residence permit.”

A lack of papers delays the deportations – or causes them to fail. If a person subject to deportation has no papers, the authorities have to procure replacement documents. But not all countries of origin accept substitute documents. The foreigners’ registration offices’ nationwide clearing house responsible for complicated cases in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate lists a total of 28 problem states, for example, Egypt and Nigeria.

According to a German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) study, the procurement of replacement papers is nigh to impossible for Pakistan and Afghanistan because of the extreme corruption and the inadequate systems of registration.

Health problems can also prevent a deportation. Other obstacles can be an impending school graduation or the completion of a therapy. How strongly these aspects are taken into consideration is in part at the discretion of the authorities – and they differ in how rigorously they operate. The number of deportations in relation to the initial applications fluctuates in the German states between 7.1 percent in Baden-Württemberg and 0.8 percent in Bremen.

Bavaria, a wealthy, conservative southern state that has seen more migrants streaming across its border with Austria than any other German state, has been particularly aggressive. More people were deported in Bavaria in the first six months of 2015 than in all of 2014.

“We are the absolute vanguard,” says Thomas Kreuzer, chairman of the center-right Christian Social Union (CSU) group in the Bavarian parliament. “If we don’t deport quickly, then we have no chance at all of mastering the massive influx.”

Mr. Kreuzer gives most of the credit to the facilities in Bamberg and Manching, in which Bavaria’s applicants from the Western Balkans are sheltered. The applicants stay in the centers during the whole application processing. That makes deportation easier.

Mr. Kreuzer’s goal is to at some point make conditions possible like those in Switzerland. In the reception facility in Zurich, for example, asylum seekers learn within 48 hours, whether their application has a chance or not. Those with no prospects must immediately leave.

It was Bavaria’s Christian Social Union, the sister party to Ms. Merkel’s CDU, that pushed for transit zones at Germany’s borders to deal with the influx. The coalition politicians are now working out the details. They are not an entirely new phenomenon: There have been transit zones at airports since 1993 in Frankfurt, Munich, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, and Berlin-Schönefeld.

Refugees from safe countries of origin, or without valid papers, can be detained there. If the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees rejects their application for asylum within 48 hours as “obviously unfounded,” the refugees can file a complaint within three days. The administrative court then makes a ruling within 14 days. If the ruling is negative, the asylum seeker is put on the next flight home.

Ms. Merkel’s CDU has now agreed to extend this process to the country’s borders.

“I want a quick process for asylum seekers whose application is obviously unfounded,” says Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière, a member of Ms. Merkel’s CDU. Markus Ferber, a member of the European Parliament for Bavaria, hails this as “a strong signal to the outside.” The processing of the asylum applications, he adds, and, if necessary, the centralized deportation of asylum seekers, must be possible within a week.

But the subject is dividing the coalition government. Germany’s justice minister, Heiko Maas, a member of the center-left Social Democrats, Ms. Merkel’s junior coalition partner, warns of “detention zones” and “mass camps in no man’s land.” Fellow SPD party members point out the practical problems.

“Refugees who know that their application hardly has a chance of success will try to avoid the transit zones,” said Rüdiger Veit, speaker for the SPD’s migration and integration working group in Germany’s parliament. “And we can’t close off thousands of miles of our border. Such plans are downright absurd.”

Moreover, the E.U. Commission wants to check the reasonableness of transit zones. It is said in Brussels that, according to the rules of the Schengen agreement that opened borders, these may only be introduced on internal E.U. national borders “as an exceptional measure for a limited time.”

For that reason, migration politicians like Mr. Veit are depending on rejected asylum seekers voluntarily leaving. “We need more counseling for returning home,” he said.

There are some successes with this approach. Experience with this in the central reception shelter in Giessen show that the number of voluntary repatriates has been doubled this way. “The rate could be further increased through financial aid in repatriating,” Mr. Veit said.

The E.U. commission is also strongly pushing voluntary repatriation. About €5 million ($5.67 million) has been set aside for reintegration programs; this rather small amount could soon be significantly increased. A substantial part of the €1.8 billion trust fund for Africa that is supposed to become available for use in mid-November is supposed to flow into reintegration programs.

The E.U. has signed agreements with 17 countries, among them Pakistan and the countries of the Western Balkans, that obligates these third-world countries to let their citizens back in after being deported. So far not one such agreement exists with a North African country. The negotiations with Morocco have been dragging on since 2000, and haven’t even been begun yet at all with Tunisia. The Commission now wants to achieve better cooperation in the repatriation of asylum applicants through “a good balance of pressure and incentives.”

Brussels is thinking of things like beefing up development aid and loosening visa requirements when countries take back the deported citizens of their country again without problems.

This is also where Switzerland could serve as a model. Rejected asylum seekers are given a “repatriation grant” of 2,000 Swiss francs if they leave immediately. The economic leverage is that the longer they delay, the less money they get.


This article originally appeared in WirtschaftsWoche. To contact the author: 

We hope you enjoyed this article

Make sure to sign up for our free newsletters too!