Over the last few years, Germany's states have sharpened their approach to dealing with those denied asylum. So far, 14,000 people have been deported this year. Among them are ever more refugees with illnesses.
North Rhine-Westphalia's Social Democrat-Green coalition government is displaying an especially rigid demeanor. Last year, according to refugee observation offices at the Dusseldorf airport, the number of asylum seekers flown out of the country was three times higher than four years ago, rising from 1,200 to 3,600. And ever more deportation flights contained a number of ailing immigrants, mostly from Turkey and the Balkans.
Many of those affected suffer from illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, HIV or serious psychological problems. "Since the so-called Asylum Package II went into effect this spring, the only exceptions that are made are for those people that are seriously ill and whose health would greatly deteriorate should they be returned to their country of origin," says Dalia Höhne, one of just three deportation observers in Germany.
But deportations are not always carried out. According to information provided by the Federal Interior Ministry, some 600 deportations were aborted between January 2015 and the end of June 2016. Often, pilots refuse to fly immigrants resisting deportation. Others are not deported because they are acutely ill.
'Deportation hindrance industry'
This has raised the hackles of police and interior ministers. They suspect that lawyers and doctors have developed a practice designed to hinder deportations. Therefore, the Chairman of the German Police Union (GdP), Rainer Wendt, and the CSU politician Hans-Peter Friedrich have vowed to pursue deportations even more vigorously in the future.
Wendt recently talked to Germany's largest daily tabloid, Bild, about what he called the "deportation hinderance industry." Friedrich, himself a former interior minister and deputy chairman of the conservative CDU-CSU parties in Germany's Bundestag, claimed: "Whoever allows those who failed to receive asylum to lead the government around by the nose like that risks destroying citizens' trust in the state's ability to act."
Uncertainty among doctors
That in turn, causes uneasiness among doctors. Experts like Dalia Höhne recognize the conflicting priorities that doctors are faced with. "I hear that there is a great amount of uncertainty among doctors when it comes to so-called airworthiness certificates." Before the new asylum law went into effect, a medical or psychological report - for instance one that documented the severity and the effects of chronic illness - could lead to the suspension of an asylum seeker's deportation. Now authorities only accept certificates that are no more than 14 days old, and which have been filled out according to strict formal specifications. It is also an open question as to what degree doctors can be expected to adequately diagnose the presence or absence of acute illnesses that might speak against deportations, especially considering the extreme time constraints that they work under and the fact that they are basically on their own, or at best are working through interpreters.
And Höhne acknowledges that there are other limitations. "Attestations from psychological therapists are not even accepted anymore. That has led to refugees that failed to receive asylum being deported straight from psychiatric clinics."
With this tougher approach, refugee deportations are likely to go up over the next few years. At least that is what the numbers suggest. As of June 30, 2016, some 550,000 rejected asylum seekers were still living in Germany. Many have unrestricted residency status, since they have settled here and no longer have any connection to their own country of origin. However, 215,000 refugees face deportation.