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Bavarian lawmakers aim to turn refugee boats back to Africa

Politicians from Bavaria want migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean sent back to Africa, a new position paper has said. They also advocate for holding migrants without ID documents in transit centers.

As security and refugee debates heat up in Germany ahead of federal elections in 2017, politicians in the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), are looking to propose a drastic shift in how Germany, and Europe, handle migrant arrivals, according to a new position paper set to be unveiled next week.

The CSU will hold a party convention next week and are set to call for tens of thousands of migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea to be sent back to North Africa, according to an internal policy paper obtained by the "Rheinische Post" newspaper.

"The existing policy of automatically bringing all people saved on the migrant route in the Mediterranean to Europe must be broken," the CSU regional bloc's paper reportedly said.

Returning people to African ports is not a completely new proposal. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere made a similar suggestion in early November. A spokeswoman at the time said fewer people may choose to make the dangerous trip to Europe if they knew they would not be allowed to stay there.

Some 181,000 migrants from the Middle East and Africa have been registered in Italy in 2016 after braving the central Mediterranean route, which has claimed some 5,000 lives this year. Many migrants are intercepted by rescue boats and European navies before being brought to the EU.

The CSU's plan would call for expanding cooperation with North African countries and convincing them to take back migrants. "This is the only way to put pressure on organized criminals in the Mediterranean," the policy paper said.

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Opposition from rights groups

Refugee advocates strongly criticized the proposal. A spokesperson for Pro Asyl said sending asylum-seekers back to Africa without checking whether they are in need of protection was a "full frontal attack on the validity of human rights in Europe." 

Ulrich Delius from the Society for Endangered Peoples (GfbV) argued that Egypt and Libya - the two countries most refugees depart from on their way to Europe and would likely be sent back to - did not offer asylum-seekers sufficient protection. 

"There are massive human rights violations in both countries," Delius said. He called the CSU's proposition "populist election campaign droning."

The CSU has long called for a cap on migrants entering Germany and for the strengthening of borders after more than a million asylum seekers and economic migrants entered the country over the past two years. It's a position that has driven a deep wedge between the party and Merkel. In the wake of this month's terror attack on a Berlin Christmas market, in which 12 people died and nearly 50 were injured, the CSU has renewed calls for a shift in Germany's migration policy.

The suspected attacker, 24-year-old Tunisian Anis Amri, used multiple aliases and avoided deportation because he did not have ID documents. The belief that the attack could have been prevented has prompted criticism in Germany over the apparent security lapse that enabled the radicalized asylum seeker to avoid deportation.

"The Amri case raises questions - questions that are not only tied to this crime but also to the time before, since he came to Germany in July 2015," Merkel said in the days following the terrorist attack. "We will now intensively examine to what extent official procedures need to be changed."

Transit centers at the border

The CSU has proposed that migrants who arrive at Germany's border without a passport or other ID documents should be "held at the border and stay in transit centers until their identity is clarified," according to the policy paper. Many asylum-seekers and migrants have arrived in Germany without ID documents, either because they don't have them or they purposefully destroyed them knowing it would slow down deportation.

In addition, the CSU is advocating limitations on family reunification for certain classes of asylum seekers beyond 2018. Germany had tightened asylum laws earlier this year by - among other things - suspending family reunification for asylum seekers granted so-called "subsidiary protection" for two years.

Meanwhile, the state of Bavaria's interior minister Joachim Herrmann (CSU) has also called for German states to be fined for not expelling failed asylum seekers.

In an interview with the German news agency dpa on Thursday, Herrmann said he was concerned some states may refuse to take responsibility for repatriating migrants who had been denied permission to stay in Germany.

 

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