Struggling To Absorb Asylum-Seekers, Germany Steps Up Deportations

Dec 25, 2015
Originally published on December 25, 2015 7:14 pm

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel says it is her country's responsibility to help anyone fleeing from war: More than a million people have sought asylum in Germany this year, and the German government has been generous in welcoming many of them.

At the same time, officials are stepping up deportations, targeting migrants from countries the German government considers "safe," at least in part — even Afghanistan.

Merkel embraces Syrian refugees with open arms, but had a far different message for Afghans during a recent news conference with their president, Ashraf Ghani, in Berlin.

She said many Afghans seeking asylum can expect to be shipped home.

Afghans may want to come to Germany for a better life, Merkel said, but her plan is to help them by sending German troops and development aid to Afghanistan.

She urged Ghani to help keep Afghans home. The German embassy in Kabul also has started a media campaign to persuade Afghans to stay put.

Mark Hauptmann, a parliament member from Merkel's party, explains the policy in two ways. First, "If we look at the people who are leaving the country, they are the young ones, the better-educated ones and those ones are needed to build up Afghanistan," he says.

"We send our troops, we send our citizens there, to protect Afghans and to create safe environments in Afghanistan," he says. "And then people from Afghanistan are coming as so-called war refugees here to Europe."

Hauptmann says nearly 128,000 Afghans came to Germany in the first 11 months of this year to apply for asylum – a third of them in November alone.

"This is not acceptable. I know that Afghanistan is not a place where we have 100 percent safety all over the country but the idea ... is to create areas where you can live secure and safe," he says.

But Afghans living in Germany say there is no safe place in their homeland for them to return now, given daily Taliban attacks, many of them in the heart of Kabul.

Obaid Abdullah, 31, is from Kabul. He now lives outside Munich. He and two of his friends met with reporters last month after a third friend was deported.

"When Germany sends us back to Kabul, we'll die," Abdullah says. "I've been gone for almost seven years and there is nothing for me there, no family, no friends. Where am I supposed to go? There are no homes for returnees, no social services, no jobs."

Abdullah says he received temporary residency status in Germany while his case was being reviewed. But since last month, authorities have demanded he report to them every two weeks, a sign they might be preparing to deport him.

How many Afghans Germany will actually deport is unclear, given its past record. Hauptmann says last year, for example, only one in five illegal Pakistani migrants who were ordered to leave were actually deported.

"Deportation is quite difficult in Germany because it's not in the power of the federal state, but in the power of the states," he says. "So this creates a lot of challenges."

He expects with pressure from Berlin, the deportation of Afghans and other illegal migrants will go up next year.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Nearly one million people have sought asylum in Germany this year. Many were drawn to the country because of its open-door policy and generous social benefits. Germany is struggling to absorb the large numbers. Officials are now stepping up deportations of failed asylum seekers in hopes of discouraging more from coming. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson says they're targeting migrants from countries that the German government considers safe, even war-torn nations like Afghanistan.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Chancellor Angela Merkel embraces Syrian refugees with open arms, saying it is Germany’s responsibility to help anyone fleeing from war. She had a far different message for Afghans during a recent news conference with their president in Berlin. Merkel said many Afghans seeking asylum can expect to be shipped home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Merkel said, Afghans may want to come to Germany for a better life, but her plan is to help them by sending German troops and development aid to Afghanistan. She urged President Ashraf Ghani to help keep Afghans home. The German embassy in Kabul has also started a media campaign to persuade Afghans to stay put. Mark Hauptmann, a Parliament member from Merkel’s party, explains why.

MARK HAUPTMANN: If we look at the people who are leaving the country, they are the young ones, the better-educated ones. And those ones are needed to build up Afghanistan.

NELSON: And he makes another point.

HAUPTMANN: We send our troops, we send our citizens there to protect Afghans and to basically create safe environments in Afghanistan, and then people from Afghanistan are coming as so-called war refugees here to Europe.

NELSON: He says nearly 128,000 Afghans came to Germany in the first 11 months of this year to apply for asylum, a third of them in November alone.

HAUPTMANN: This is not acceptable. I know that Afghanistan is not a place where you have 100-percent safety all over the country. But the idea is to create areas where you can live secure and safe.

NELSON: But Afghans living in Germany say there is no safe place in their homeland for them to return to now given daily Taliban attacks, many of them in the heart of Kabul. Thirty-one-year-old Obaid Abdullah is from Kabul. He now lives outside Munich. He and two of his friends met with reporters last month after a third friend was deported.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAID ABDULLAH: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Abdullah says, "when Germany sends us back to Kabul, we’ll die." I've been gone for almost seven years, and there's nothing for me there - no family, no friends. Where am I supposed to go? There are no homes for returnees, no social services, no jobs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABDULLAH: (Speaking German).

NELSON: The Kabul law school graduate adds, "if it's so safe in Afghanistan, why is the son of the Afghan president living in America? Abdullah says he received temporary residency status in Germany while his case was being reviewed. But since last month, authorities have demanded he report to them every two weeks, a sign they might be preparing to deport him. How many Afghans Germany will actually deport is unclear given its past record. Parliament member Hauptmann says last year, for example, only 1 in 5 of illegal Pakistani migrants who were ordered to leave were actually deported.

HAUPTMANN: Deportation is quite difficult in Germany because it’s not in the power of the federal state but in the power of the states. So this creates a lot of challenges.

NELSON: He expects with pressure from Berlin, the deportation of Afghans and other illegal migrants will go up next year. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.