Germany is trying to speed up deportations, creating the prospect of ugly scenes at airports as people resist. Lawyers say the wearying pace of the country's asylum procedures are not down to deportations in any case.
The German government cannot get its brand new "Asylum Acceleration Law" into force quick enough. Having drawn up the regulations - meant partly to speed up deportations - in two months and driven them through both chambers of parliament within 48 hours in mid-October, they were set to come into force on November 1.
But even that wasn't fast enough. On Friday October 23, the government suddenly announced that the new rules would come into effect the very next day, a week ahead of time, a move that was heralded by Angela Merkel's newly-minted refugee crisis coordinator Peter Altmaier as a "good signal."
And yet, even as speculation about a sudden spate of mass deportations circulated in the German media, it turned out that German bureaucracy cannot be shifted out of its normal pace so easily, and in the weekend's news shows there was distinct absence of pictures of refugee families being herded onto airplanes - possibly even military transporters.
"It sounds like they're going to start right away, but I don't see that, because it's much too complex," said asylum specialist Barbara John, chairwoman of the Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband, an umbrella association of hundreds of charities. "People will continue to bring appeals, sick notes, and incapacity certificates."
'No deportation at any price'
Even at the airport, deportations are not straightforward, says Christian Altenhofen, spokesman for the federal police at Frankfurt airport, who can stop deportations at the last minute. "We look at them, and if they're sick or if they're injured and obviously can't go on the flight, then we take them to the doctor and have them examined," he told DW. "But we have one principle that stands above all: No deportation at any price. No deportation is worth threatening the health or dignity of the individual."
And the scenes can turn ugly at the airport, as Berlin lawyer Oda Jentsch knows. "There are a lot of cases where the deportation simply can't be carried out by force," said Jentsch, who represents many asylum seekers. "There are cases when the airline has company guidelines that say they can't have people on board who didn't get on voluntarily. And then there are cases where the person actively resists - they scream, they throw themselves to the floor, they won't let themselves be transported. And that often means that the deportation can't happen."
Such incidents are likely to be more common now, because one of the regulations contained in the new law prevents local authorities from informing refugees of their deportation. "Usually it happens in their homes - people are taken from the beds early in the morning," said Jentsch. "It's especially stressful for families with young children - and that's new. It used to be that families were told: on that day you're invited to come to this place, you will be accompanied across the border by the police, please bring your luggage, and your necessary medication. That was of course a much more humane situation."
Under the new law, it will be very different: "People will be taken from their beds with screaming children, without luggage, without any medication they might need, then they'll be put into a car and driven away," Jentsch told DW.
The police also have specially-trained officers to accompany deportees on their flights, if necessary. These are likely to have more to do now that more deportees are being picked up by surprise. "You have to be especially sensitive," said Altenhofen. "They occasionally have to calm people down, and explain what is happening, because they're surprised, and that does heighten the stress situation significantly."
The police have food and clothing on hand at the airport to offer the deportees. "You can of course argue about how humane a deportation is in itself," said Altenhofen. "But the work we do we try to do as humanely as possible."
Nevertheless, as Barbara John points out, people who have stayed beyond their deadlines are now breaking the law, and the police can and do use force to make people get onto planes - if necessary, under certain circumstances with their hands tied (though with cable ties rather than handcuffs, so that a third person can remove them in an emergency on the plane).
Not a quick solution
Though there will certainly be more deportations because of the new rules, they are not likely to affect the vast majority of refugees coming to Germany - and even less of the influx of new arrivals from Syria in the summer. Deportees are usually from Balkan states, who are almost never granted asylum, because those countries are deemed "safe" by the German government.
Indeed, German regional leaders have already been warning that the new measures will not bring relief to the impasse at the overburdened public authorities. "Deportations won't solve the problem," Berlin Mayor Michael Müller told news agency dpa. "There are far too many asylum seekers coming en masse."
The statistics bear this out. According to the interior ministry, there are some 193,000 people in Germany whose applications have been turned down - but some 140,000 of them have "tolerated" status, which means that a deportation can't be carried out - for whatever reason, often health-related. The 50,000 migrants that could theoretically be deported immediately represent only a fraction of the 800,000 refugees expected to submit asylum applications this year.
"The government is grasping this from the wrong end," said Jentsch. "Of course it's in our interests that asylum procedures are accelerated, too - but it needs to be done by good, well-trained personnel, with trained translators."
For Jentsch, speeding up deportations will do nothing to solve the one big problem of Germany's asylum system - the lack of properly trained personnel. "We don't have decisions that are quick enough and good enough - that's why the process takes so long," she said. "Hearings have to be repeated because the translators are so bad, people wait for years for decisions, then rulings are made that are so poor that it's obvious that they have to be appealed against. That's what makes everything take so long - not the fact that deportations aren't done in time."