Pilots across Germany are stopping planned deportations of rejected asylum seekers. At the same time, refugees are appealing their deportation orders in record numbers - and winning.
Some pilots in Germany are refusing to participate in deportations, local media reported on Monday.
Following an information request from the Left party, the government said that 222 planned expulsions were stopped by pilots, which in some cases has affected controversial return of refugees to Afghanistan.
Despite ongoing violence and repression in parts of the country, Afghanistan is sometimes deemed "safe" to return to by the authorities.
Some 85 of the refusals between January and September 2017 came from Germany's main airline Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings. About 40 took place at Dusseldorf airport, where the controversial deportations are routinely accompanied by protesters on the tarmac. The majority of the canceled flights, around 140, took place at Frankfurt Airport, Germany's largest and most important hub.
Lufthansa spokesman Michael Lamberty defended personnel who chose not to fly deported people back to their countries of origin, saying that sometimes security was a concern.
"The decision not to carry a passenger is ultimately made by the pilot on a case by case basis. If he or she had the impression that flight safety could be affected, he must refuse to transport the passenger," Lamberty was quoted by the Westdeutsche Allegeimeine Zeitung as saying.
According to Lamberty, Lufthansa pilots sometimes talk personally to passengers who are about to be deported prior to the flight. In general, these people are treated like normal passengers, "they have a valid ticket after all."
"Should security personnel at the airports have some sort of information in advance which indicates that a situation could escalate during a deportation, they can decide ahead of time not to let the passengers board."
Neither Lufthansa nor the state and local authorities responsible for carrying out deportations have said whether the pilots made ethical considerations in their refusal to carry certain passengers, which is against regulations, maintaining the line that it depends on safety issues.
However, some pilots have spoken anonymously to German media about the moral difficulty they feel in ferrying families back to an uncertain and potentially dangerous situation.
"A family comes to you, with a couple little ones and you just know you're sealing their future," one pilot told journalists for Bento.
Germany decides more asylum cases than rest of EU combined
Despite an uptick in deportations, Germany remains the main destination for refugees and migrants to the European Union — so much so that in 2017, Germany processed more asylum applications than all 27 other EU countries combined.
Die Welt daily, quoting the European statistics agency Eurostat, said that the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) decided 388,201 asylum cases in the first six months of 2017.
Read more: Muslim population projected to rise
As Germany stepped up deportations, the number of asylum seekers appealing their decisions has increased significantly. Nearly every second ruling made by the BAMF in the first half of the year was brought before a judge.
This is nearly double the number of appeals made during the same period in 2016 – as it stands now, the courts side with about one in every four asylum seekers who appeal their status. According to public broadcaster NDR, these suits have cost Berlin about €19 million ($22.5 million) from January to November 2017, an increase of €7.8 million from the previous year.
In order to reduce the number of appeals and speed up deportations, the government has proposed a program to begin in February 2018 that would see rejected asylum seekers given 3,000 euros as an incentive to accept deportation.