Germany has begun a plan to begin more group deportations. But the political pressure to accelerate asylum procedures and deportation has to be balanced by the rule of law.
There were protests at Frankfurt airport but little trouble on Wednesday as a group of 34 people became the first batch of Afghan asylum seekers to be sent home en masse by the German government. This is part of a new plan to deport over 12,000 Afghans after Germany signed a memorandum of understanding with Kabul.
Under pressure from Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, Germany's immigration authorities are speeding up the asylum procedures of those people considered to have little chance of gaining asylum. In November, new statistics showed that the number of deportations had reached a record high in 2016 - some 19,914 people had been deported in the first three-quarters of the year, just short of the 20,888 people deported in the whole of 2015.
Deportations to Afghanistan in particular are a much-contested issue in Germany. Günter Burkhardt, director of the refugee rights organization Pro Asyl described them to DW as "irresponsible" and suggested that Wednesday's operation showed the authorities were "setting an example whatever the cost." Meanwhile Horst Seehofer, state premier of Bavaria, applied a little more pressure on authorities by expressing his hope that the mass deportation "wouldn't be an individual case."
Depends on the country
Afghanistan represents a special legal problem, because it is not on Germany's official list of "safe countries of origin," which makes it easier for authorities to make blanket decisions about asylum seekers (though they do still get individual hearings to present evidence of persecution).
Given that, according to the Afghan government, there is ongoing conflict in 31 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, it is unsurprising only a small proportion of Germany's deportations lead there. Asylum applicants from the Balkans, specifically Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro represented almost three-quarters of Germany's deportations in 2015 (to be exact: 14,529).
Also, many deportations do not necessarily lead back home. Some asylum seekers are distributed to other European Union countries, while others are sent to third countries that Germany has agreements with, such as Tunisia and Morocco.
Depends on the German state
Though the Federal Office for Immigration and Refugees (BAMF) is responsible for asylum procedures, the states' foreigners' registration offices (Ausländerbehörden) are responsible for administering deportations, and state courts usually decide on cases when attorneys have filed appeals on behalf of asylum seekers.
That's why immigration authorities in some German states, including Schleswig-Holstein, Thuringia and Lower Saxony, have ruled out deportations to Afghanistan, pending new security reports.
The BAMF offers four different types of protection: refugee protection, entitlement to asylum, subsidiary protection, or a ban on deportation. The most extensive of these is refugee protection and entitlement to asylum, allowing people to stay in Germany for three years, and usually people from Syria or Eritrea can expect to be recognized under one of those categories. But a recent ruling by one of Germany's top state courts threw this into doubt when it said that Syrians could only expect subsidiary protection, which covers just one year and makes it more difficult for people to bring their families.
Protection cannot be granted if an individual has committed a crime or could be a considered a risk to Germany's security or public safety.
If the BAMF rejects the asylum application (and the government says there are some 550,000 people living in Germany whose applications have been rejected), they can appeal the decision, and a court must examine the BAMF's reason for turning them down.
There are a number of reasons why it can be difficult for authorities to deport people who have had their applications rejected: often their countries of origin refuse to take them (hence the new agreements the government is trying to make with Afghanistan and Maghreb countries), or else the asylum seekers have no papers and it is impossible to prove conclusively where they are from.
When an asylum application is turned down by the BAMF, the asylum seekers are given a deadline - usually 30 days, but it may be a week, if their application is considered "manifestly unfounded" - for when they have to leave the country.
The state-level immigration authorities are responsible for returns, but they may issue a temporary suspension of deportation (known as a "Duldung," literally: toleration) or a time-limited residence permit, if there are reasons why a return cannot be forced (such as health). There are, however, advantages to leaving voluntarily - asylum seekers are often given incentives in the form of money or help to find work or training in the destination country. As well as this, if they leave voluntarily they are not automatically given a re-entry ban.