The German government wants to toughen how it deals with asylum seekers, but critics and experts say that deportation is often cruel and costly. This issue made for a heated debate in the Bundestag on Thursday.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere appeared in front of the German parliament on Thursday to argue for a new draft law that would impose stricter rules on asylum seekers. De Maiziere said that the German public would only support Germany's generous asylum policies if the government enforced deportation regulations and protected German society against potential threats from migrants.
The draft law, said de Maiziere, was a response to "the case of Anis Amri and the terror attacks on Breitscheidplatz on December 19," which stressed identity determination, deportation and surveillance of people determined to be potential threats.
"I think it's not too much to ask that people who want asylum from us tell us their true names," De Maiziere said with reference to Amri's use of multiple identities. "And if they don't, it has to have consequences."
De Maiziere said that "asylum and returning people to their home countries are two sides of the same coin." He defended controversial proposals to use data from migrants' mobile phones to determine who they are, comparing such examinations to customs checks of people's baggage at borders.
Checking people's phones was "not excessive," de Maiziere said, characterizing it "only fair." De Maiziere also said the new rules would allow for the use of electronic ankle tags to monitor foreigners considered possible risks.
Speaking for the junior partners in the government coalition, Social Democratic parliamentarian Lars Castellucci argued that stricter deportation rules were needed to ensure public acceptance of Germany acting as a haven for those who truly need political protection
"I'm for asylum - and deportation is part of that," Castellucci said, adding that that decisions about whether asylum would be granted should be made more quickly.
A misguided 'Amri Law?'
The opposition said that the proposed legislation was aimed solely at increasing the number of deportations and violated both German law and the dignity of asylum seekers.
"The draft law exploits a general mood in favor of deportations and is inimical to those looking for protection," Bundestag Vice-President Petra Pau of the Left Party said, adding that one third of asylum seekers were under the age of 18.
Pau also said that the draft law, which she characterized as a "lex Amri" (Amri Law), would have done nothing to prevent last December's terrorist attack in Berlin.
Green parliamentarian Luise Amtsberg said that the proposed legislation was hastily written and unfair toward refugees.
"What this law ignores is how well-integrated many people, despite difficult circumstances, already are," Amtsberg said. "And it would exclude large number of children from going to school."
By contrast, Amtsberg's Green colleague Volker Beck dismissed the draft law as "purely symbolic." Both the Left and the Greens said that they rejected the legislation, which now goes to parliamentary committee for amendments, before it is put to a final parliamentary vote.
Refugee advocacy groups also criticized the legislation.
"The law perfects a machinery in which people looking for protection get crushed under the wheels," the German non-governmental organization Pro Asyl said in a statement. "From the moment they apply for asylum, asylum seekers are generally suspected of purposeful deception."
Voluntary returns instead of a 'deportation lottery'
Also on Thursday, the Council of German Foundations for Integration and Migration presented a new study of three German states that suggested the country would be better served by trying to persuade people to leave, rather than forcibly deporting them.
Research director Jan Schneider cited estimates made by the McKinsey consulting firm in late 2016 that put the costs of deporting an illegal alien at more than double (1,500 euros, $1,600) that of convincing him or her with incentives like small sums of start-up money to return their home countries voluntarily (700 euros). The numbers of people deported from Germany in 2016 (25,000), he pointed out, were dwarfed by those who left of their own free will (55,700).
"In the view of our experts, the balance of advantages tips somewhat in favor of voluntary returns," Schneider said. "Deportation is always problematic."
The Council report calls for additional funds for local foreigners registration offices to deal with people whose asylum applications have been rejected and for translators to help them understand Germany's often complex asylum and residency regulations.
Schneider acknowledged that the threat of being deported was one motivational factor - a "Damocles' sword" - in people deciding to leave Germany voluntarily. But he also stressed that of the more than 200,000 foreigners with no right to reside in Germany who are currently in the country, deportation was only possible in around 55,000 cases because the countries of origin either were too dangerous or refused to take the people in question back.
The report also recommends that Germany's 16 federal states, which are responsible for carrying out deportations, standardize their procedures and strategies for getting rid of illegal aliens. In this regard, Schneider cited a recent article in the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" entitled "The Deportation Lottery," which concluded that "who can stay in Germany and who has to go often depends on chance."