Migration policy in Germany: Nervous activity

No idea seems to far fetched for discussion. Internment in Africa, termination of rescue operations at sea – everything just for the sake of keeping refugees away.

German policy aims at keeping refugees from even reaching neighbouring countries Foto: dpa

It’s winter 2016 and Germany is impatient. For more than a year, the EU has been piling the pressure on African states to get them to fall in line and as far as the German government is concerned, things aren’t moving fast enough. In an internal memo issued on 30 November, the German foreign office (Auswärtige Amt) insists that the EU finally begin migration partnership negotiations with Egypt. The FO adds that the issue of “expulsion“ be “stressed“ as a political aim, urging the Council of the European Union to decide on the matter at its next meeting.

Never before has Germany put so much energy into influencing such policies. Unlike Spain or Italy, for many years the Federal Republic had only shown a minor interest in shaping external migration control. After all, back then the country was used to just a small number of refugees crossing its borders. Asylum figures peaked in the early 1990s, but in 1993 a set of laws widely seen as a compromise between the parties on asylum policy (and which also included a constitutional amendment) suddenly saw a tightening of conditions for admission. A clause concerning third states did much to decrease the number of applications. Shortly afterwards, these new laws were followed by the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which ensured that the majority of refugees remained on the union’s outer borders in states such as Greece and Italy. The number of asylum applications received by Germany thus decreased in the years up to 2007, when it reached a record low of 19,164. Since then, figures have shot up – and so Germany has once again taken an increased interest in asylum policy.

One example can be seen along Africa’s borders, where in recent years Germany’s government authorities have spared no expense in bolstering security. In 2016 Germany's Federal Ministry of Defence, together with the foreign office, provided several million euros to help partner countries 'get into shape’. Tunisia received €20 million from this fund, some of which was earmarked for improving electronic surveillance along its Libyan border and for border police training. In 2017 the country is set to receive a further €40 million. Germany’s federal police officers are training Tunisian border guards and its armed forces are sending speedboats and armoured trucks.

Next year the country also plans to provide mobile monitoring systems featuring ground surveillance. Tunisia has already received five night surveillance systems, 25 thermal imaging cameras, 25 optical sensors and five radar systems: the North African state is practically being gifted a high-tech border. Back in March 2012, the German police force sent a “border police liaison officer“ to the country’s capital, Tunis, whose job was to collect information on the current situation concerning illegal migration (for more information, see the report on Tunisia).

Human rights take a back seat

Germany also sent a police officer to Egypt to work as a liaison officer. In April 2016 during a visit to Cairo, Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel, not only discussed the planned sale of two submarines, he also offered assistance to tighten security along the Libyan-Egyptian border and improve security measures on the Sinai Peninsula. In June 2016, following two years of talks, Germany’s interior minister Thomas de Maizière and his Egyptian counterpart Magdy Abdel Ghaffar signed a security pact outlining the fight against organised crime and terrorism as well as disaster prevention.

German federal police began training Egyptian border officers as early as 2015, while Germany’s Criminal Police Office trained two of the country's secret services (the GIS and the NSS). In 2016 German police carried out a total of five training sessions with Egyptian officials, covering areas such as border security, a controversial issue given the human rights situation in the Middle Eastern country. This is because Egypt has an anti-terrorism act that classes a terror organisation as anything that in any way threatens public safety and order or the interests of the people. However, in response to a question tabled by the Green Party, the German government stated early in the year that given the current high levels of migration, the German police force was set to provide even higher levels of assistance to Egypt in the shape of training and equipment to improve border security (more detail is given in the Egypt report).

Since 2012, GiZ, a German development agency, has been running a police reform programme in Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Nigeria commissioned by the foreign office. Between 2016 and 2018, the German government will provide €26 million for the project. The aim is for border police in rural areas to learn how to “effectively carry out the relevant procedures when processing border crossings“. In Mauritania, a transit country, GiZ is carrying out measures such as constructing three border posts at a cost of €210,000, providing nine passport and fingerprint scanners, training 102 border police and building up a pool of trainers specialised in border security.

Vor „dramatischer“ Migration aus Afrika warnt die deutsche Regierung, von einem „Marshallplan“ ist die Rede. Doch die Milliardensummen, die Europa in Afrika ausgeben will, dienen nicht nur dem Kampf gegen Armut. Erklärtes Ziel der neuen EU-Afrikapolitik ist es, Flüchtlinge und Migranten schon tief im Innern des Kontintents aufzuhalten. Die taz berichtet seit Mitte November in einem Rechercheschwerpunkt darüber, zu finden unter taz.de/migcontrol.

Die Recherche wurde gefördert von Fleiß und Mut e. V. (cja)

In Niger nine police stations were built on the Nigerian border (costing €1.35 million), its border police received nine pick-ups (costing €270,000) and 12 motorcycles at €10,000 each, as well as training units for its border police. In Chad a new post was constructed on the border with Cameroon. As part of the third phase of this initiative, further assistance will be given to police forces in Mauritania, the Ivory Coast, Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Sudan by 2018. Interpol’s 'Adwenpa II’ operation, which will provide training for border guards in 14 West-African states between 2016 and 2018, is also receiving funding from the German government.

Restraint in Sudan

In 2015 roughly a quarter of a million euros was given to Morocco, Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania to combat human trafficking and people smuggling. In 2016, 18 African states received a total of around €1.8 million from Berlin for related projects. In December 2016 the German Cabinet decided to participate in the EUCAP Sahel Niger civilian mission launched to combat drug, arms and people trafficking in Niger. There are plans to send 20 federal and state police officers to the nation, which is the largest transit country for African refugees en route to Europe.

One of the key projects in this area is the GiZ’s 'Better Migration Management’ initiative, to which the EU contributes €40 million; Germany gives an additional €6 million. The objective, according to the GiZ, is “to improve migration management around the Horn of Africa“ and “curb people smuggling and human trafficking“. Democracies such as Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia are involved, as are dictatorships, such as Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea. The GiZ insists that it rejected the Sudanese regime’s demands for equipment (for more information, see report on Sudan).

The 2015 refugee crisis was also accompanied by a sharp rise in the number of deportations. According to a list from November 2016, from 2010 to 2014 Germany deported between 4,800 and 5,400 people a year. In 2015 this figure rose to 16,337 and during the following year, 17,137 had been deported by October. These figures do not include deportations within the European Union. Over the years, Germany has signed formal readmission agreements with Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cape Verde, Georgia, Hong Kong, Macau, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Pakistan, the Russia Federation, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Ukraine. This allows Germany to deport nationals of other states or stateless persons to these countries if they have been granted right of residence there – or if they have “illegally and directly“ entered Germany via these countries. Since 2010 Germany has removed between 200 and 500 individuals every year and sent them to countries outside of the European Union that were not their country of origin. Serbia, Kosovo and Albania were the most frequently named destination countries.

Kurds deported to Syria

A low-point in Germany’s efforts to secure expulsion agreements was the deal made between former Federal Minister of the Interior, Christian Democrat Wolfgang Schäuble, and his former Syrian counterpart Bassam Abdel Majeed in 2008. When Germany’s foreigner registration office began applying the new ruling, it resulted in Kurds and Yazidis being deported to Damascus where they were immediately arrested. The Syrian regime accused them of “damaging Syria’s reputation abroad“, most likely due to the arguments stated by refugees in their rejected asylum claims. After civil war broke out in 2011, the agreement was suspended but not annulled.

An expulsion agreement with Morocco has been in place since 1998 and in 2006 Germany signed a similar pact with Algeria. However, Germany’s government is not happy about the way these deals have been implemented. “These countries need to understand that their co-operation in dealing with matters of migration and expulsion is, in our view, a key element of our bilateral partnership. It influences our willingness to contribute in other areas,“ said Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière in January 2016.

Shortly afterwards, de Maizière travelled to North Africa and Tunisia agreed to a particular pilot project: deportation flights on specifically allocated charter planes containing up to 25 Tunisians. In future, employees at the Tunisian embassy would also be called upon to identify their compatriots whilst they were still housed in centres for asylum seekers in Germany. Upon a visit to the headquarters of the National Border Guard, de Maizière presented a range of equipment, including 27 off-road vehicles, flak jackets and night-vision devices. The Moroccan government agreed to carry out biometric data checks: now if the German government supplies them with fingerprints to help identify a refugee under a deportation order, Rabat must give a response within 45 days.

Welcome to the Federal Printing Office

It is surely no coincidence that at the beginning of 2016, Veridos, a joint venture between Germany’s federal printing office and German IT company Giesecke & Devrient, announced that it had been contracted by the Moroccan government to “develop and implement a national border control system“. They would supply a range of equipment including biometric scanners, passport reading equipment, security checkpoints and servers for 1,600 security posts. In addition, the printing office confirmed that it was currently tasked with printing passport booklets for Libya’s transitional government. A delegation from Sudan’s immigration office also recently paid the FPO a visit.

In 2016 Chancellor Angela Merkel embarked on a tour of Africa in search of better deportation options for Germany. Merkel held out the prospect of “comprehensive assistance“ to Niger. Following a meeting with the country’s president Mahamadou Issoufou in the capital Niamey, she said the German government would support the Nigerien army with trucks and communication equipment. There was also a plan to create jobs for those who were “currently making a living from people smuggling“.

Not wanting to pass up a good opportunity, President Mahamadou Issoufou swiftly demanded a higher monetary sum, claiming a mere share of the EU’s €1.8-billion trust fund was insufficient: “We need substantial support for our country.“ He suggested a billion would be more appropriate. Merkel agreed to €10 million for the army and €17 million to encourage job growth around the city of Agadez. Without development, it would be impossible to expect people to “help combat illegal migration“, she said.

The Chancellery’s revolving door

In Ethiopia, a country that has been in a state of emergency for six months and is ruled by a prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who has shown extreme brutality towards his opponents, Merkel proposed a partnership with Germany’s Ministry of the Interior to train the Ethiopian police force “to ensure that responses were proportionate and fewer lives would be lost during clashes“. Desalegn informed her that Ethiopia’s democracy was “not yet fully fledged“.

Immediately upon her return, her first visitor was president of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno. He was promised €8.9 million “in addition to the commitments we have already made“, explained Merkel, “to help resolve water and food issues“. After all, Chad had “accepted more than 700,000 refugees from other countries“.

Itno hadn’t even made it home when Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari landed. He even missed the start of the African Union summit in the Togolese capital Lomé in order to pay the Chancellor a visit. In the first nine months of the year, 10,200 Nigerians had applied for asylum, more than twice the number that had applied over the same period in 2015. The approval rate stood at eight percent, which, Merkel explained, “proves that most Nigerians are coming to Germany for economic reasons“. Nigeria was also on Merkel’s list of recipients, but something was expected in return: the EU was to begin negotiations on a migration agreement with Nigeria. “We will also be discussing an expulsion agreement.“

Germany and Frontex

German officials have long held leading positions within the EU’s border protection agency, Frontex. Key decisions about the functions of Frontex are also made by the agency’s management board, on which representatives of all participating member states sit. It is chaired by Ralf Göbel, a former deputy director general of federal police matters who is now a high-ranking official within the German Ministry of the Interior. The head of the Frontex operations division, Klaus Rösler, is also German. Rösler has repeatedly commented on political decision-making and spoken out against rescue operations for migrants off the Libyan coast.

In December 2014 he wrote a letter to the head of the Italian immigration authorities and border police at the Ministry of the Interior, Giovanni Pinto. He ordered police to stop responding to emergency calls outside of their designated 30-mile radius as this did not comply “with the operative plan“. During this time, the number of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean rose sharply and the high death toll has continued to this very day. Nonetheless, in June 2016 at a meeting of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Brussels, Rösler argued that the high number of migrants attempting the crossing was in part due to the EU’s high-intensity sea monitoring and rescue missions. He claimed this was leading to smugglers taking ever greater risks and sending refugees in boats that were not seaworthy driven by migrants who hoped to be rescued by the EU. “It’s causing people to leave,“ said Rösler.

Until 2013, Germany had steadfastly followed the Dublin system. The German government repeatedly claimed the regulation had proved “effective“. One year later, that was suddenly no longer the case. “We need to agree to admission quotas, perhaps according to population,“ de Maizière said at an EU meeting of justice and home affairs ministers on 9 October 2014 in Luxembourg. It was exactly what the countries of southern Europe had been demanding for years. Each time the request had been met with opposition, mainly from Berlin. In 2009 around 11 percent of asylum applications were submitted to Germany – far less than it would have to process if a quota system were in place. However, since then this share has been rising as southern European states are no longer able to keep refugees within their borders: in 2011 it was one fifth, 2012 a quarter, and between mid-2013 to mid-2014 one in three asylum applications made within the EU were submitted to Germany. For many years, the country benefited from the Dublin Regulation. Just as that began to change, Germany suddenly woke up to the downsides of the supposedly “effective“ Dublin system.

Camps in regions of origin

Although Germany was by no means shouldering the burden of Europe’s refugees at that time, in 2004 its government stepped forward with an initiative which, despite showing no signs of success, is still very much in place. No one should be given the impression that attempting to cross the Mediterranean was one way to enter Europe, said then Social Democrat minister of the interior Otto Schily in 2004. He said it was important to check whether the asylum applications of migrants pulled from the sea could be processed in “facilities“ in North Africa. “Africa’s problems need to be resolved in Africa with the help of Europe,“ Schily said.

One year prior, shortly before the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, British Prime Minister Tony Blair unveiled his ‘New Vision for Refugees’. He was also keen to outsource as much of Europe’s refugee protection measures as possible to the regions from which refugees originated. Refugees who managed to reach Europe were to be returned to their regions of origin where they would be placed in special “protective zones“. The EU wanted to create a global network of as many of these refugee camps as possible, claiming that, once there, the UNHCR could ascertain individuals’ need for protection.

One year later, Schily explained that he envisioned camps being set up in North Africa as an experiment. A “European coast guard“ could patrol the Mediterranean and take those rescued back to the country from which they departed. There, EU state officials would check asylum applications alongside a core team of officials from the EU’s own refugee agency, said Schily. He explained that if there were no cause for asylum to be granted, rescued refugees had to be returned to their countries of origin. “A judicial review doesn’t necessarily have to take place,“ said Schily. After all, North Africa was “outside the EU’s jurisdiction“. Even if a reason for flight had been established, individuals should primarily be moved to a region close to their country of origin.

It looks as though the German government has decided to turn Schily’s idea into the politician’s lasting political legacy.

Einmal zahlen

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