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Last stop Rosenheim

Lidet Abebe/tjOctober 3, 2014

On 3.10.2013, more than 350 refugees drowned off the Italian island of Lampedusa. A new EU refugee policy has done nothing to ease the situation - police in southern Germany continue to detain refugees on a daily basis.

Refugees being taken up the stairs of Rosenheim train station by police
Image: DW/L. Abebe

Ronny and Jako, two German policemen in the Upper Bavarian city of Rosenheim - they don't want their surnames appearing in the media - start their shift at five o'clock in the morning. They are "in charge of everything happening within 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) of the Austrian border," Jako says, starting up their unmarked BMW police car.

It is still dark, but the A8 autobahn to Munich is already thick with traffic. As on previous mornings, Ronny and Jako are on the look-out for people who have been smuggled illegally over the border. And the third vehicle that they check - an Italian tour bus - already yields their first find of the day: two Nigerians have crossed the German border without valid papers. After hesitating for a while, one of them, who calls himself "Kennedy," comes out with the truth: "I thought it would be a good idea to come here and apply for asylum."

"Kennedy" says that he came to Italy via Libya, but had been unable to find work there even after three years of trying. He is not worried about being arrested by the German police - he had been on the way to Munich to apply for asylum there anyway, he says, completely unruffled.

Next stop: police station

The two men from Nigeria are taken to the German Federal Police station in Rosenheim. There, the first thing they have to do is wait. Some of Ronny and Jako's colleagues have just arrived with seven Syrian refugees and a human trafficker. "We've really reached the limit," Jako says. "Every day we have about 30 people or more who have entered Germany illegally."

Policeman taking fingerprints with a scanner. Copyright: L. Abebe ( DW)
Taking fingerprints enables refugees to be identified across EuropeImage: DW/L. Abebe

At present, most of the refugees come from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan and Nigeria. In Rosenheim alone, the Federal Police have registered more than 5,000 illegal immigrants since the beginning of the year - in 2013, the number stood at around 4,000 for the entire twelve months. And police suspect that many refugees elude detection, meaning that the real figure could be much higher.

Mohamed Idris from Eritrea also has a long and perilous journey behind him. After being detained by German police, he applied for asylum and has now been living for several weeks in a home for refugees in Frasdorf, a suburb of Rosenheim. His path to Germany first took him from his native country in the Horn of Africa to Sudan, then on to Libya. "Things were hard in Libya," Idris says. "I spent a month there in prison. But then I left Libya and traveled over the sea to Italy by boat."

This boat trip from Libya to Italy in dangerously overfilled vessels is the most perilous part of the journey for many would-be immigrants. Another refugee, 17-year-old Ali Ahmed from Somalia, relates that he paid traffickers 3,000 dollars for his passage. He's been living for three weeks in a refugee home in Rosenheim. "There are lots of people who will accept money to help you get to Europe," he says. Ahmed had actually not wanted to go to Germany, but further to the north, to Norway. But after he had been arrested in Rosenheim, he applied for asylum where he was, the teenager says.

Intersection of smuggling routes

The police are responsible only for registering the refugees. What happens to them after that is decided by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. If someone has already been registered in another European Union country, he or she usually has to go back there. Otherwise, refugees from countries affected by civil war are, as a rule, allowed to go free and are able to apply for asylum.

Several major trafficking routes intersect in Rosenheim. The "Balkan Route," for example, runs here from Afghanistan, whle another, the "Brenner Route," comes from Africa via the Mediterranean, Italy and Austria. The international railway connections through Rosenheim are another travel possibility, the police say.

Map showing Rosenheim, Kufstein and Munich
Rosenheim is at the intersection of several refugee routes

It is now noon. Ronny and Jako are carrying out inspections on the express train Eurocity 88, which they join over the border in Austria. They already spot the first refugee fight at the door. After the train has passed over the German border, they speak to him: "We are German police. Passport, please!" The despondent African man guesses what they mean and nods, resigned to his fate. "Sudan," he answers, when asked where he comes from. The officers carry out a body search to find out whether he is carrying weapons or any other dangerous items on his person. But they find nothing but a piece of paper. The man doesn't even have any luggage and is wearing the only clothes he possesses. The piece of paper, the only official document owned by the Sudanese, is an Austrian certificate - he has obviously been subject to a police control there that same morning.

The express train needs just 20 minutes to travel from Kufstein in Austria to Rosenheim. Ronny and Jako arrest two illegal immigrants during the trip - and detain a third on the platform in Rosenheim when they arrive there. The two policemen, however, suspect that more refugees are on the train, and notify their colleagues at Munich central station, which is where the train stops next.

Rosenheim police station Copyright: L. Abebe ( DW)
The first stop for many refugees in Germany: Rosenheim police stationImage: DW/L. Abebe

A German woman traveling from Italy who gets out in Rosenheim is shocked by the scenes involving refugees she has seen on her trip. The train station in Bolzano in South Tyrol was overcrowded just like the train, she says. She saw desperate African refugees everywhere, she adds, as Ronny and Jako take the three people they have arrested off toward the police station.