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Deportations in Germany: Use of force on the rise

August 12, 2019

German police have faced increased physical resistance while carrying out deportations. The police, in turn, are responding with increased force, sparking criticism from lawmakers and rights groups.

Symbolbild - Abschiebung
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

There are numerous reasons why deportations from Germany have had to be called off. These include asylum-seekers who had the courts block their deportation to their home country or a third-party country from which they entered Germany. But there are also incidents where asylum-seekers have gone underground to evade the police, as well as deportations that were aborted at the last minute because individuals became violent on board planes. In the first half of 2019, pilots of German and foreign airlines refused to carry out deportation flights involving 335 individuals.

This figure was revealed by a parliamentary inquiry submitted by Germany's Left party, which was made available to DW. It also shows that most deportation flights were aborted at Frankfurt Airport, affecting 131 people. Germany's Lufthansa airline was the carrier on which most deportations were abandoned — involving 87 individuals — followed by Eurowings and Iberia. These figures highlight that deportations entail a growing degree of physical force.

Use of cuffs rises tenfold

German Left party lawmaker Ulla Jelpke had wanted to know more about deportations from Germany and sent a list with 26 detailed questions to the government. She was deeply troubled when she subsequently learned that police use of restraints such as hand and foot cuffs had increased nearly tenfold, from 135 instances in 2015 to 1,231 in 2018.

People sitting on a plane in Germany to be deported
Despite relatively consistent deportation numbers in recent years, the use of force is on the riseImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

The sharp increase comes despite the fact the number of deportations has remained almost constant in that time period. In 2017, there were 23,966 deportations. One year later, there were 23,617 deportations. Judging by the 11,496 deportations carried out between January and June of this year, 2019 is likely to be relatively similar to previous years. Germany's Interior Ministry explained that the increase in physical force comes with the "rise in people violently resisting deportations." A statement from August 6, however, said the government lacks "further reliable findings" on the matter.

Read more: Are deportations from Germany on the rise?

Interior Ministry: Spike in use of force 'easy' to explain

When DW asked the Interior Ministry for comment on Monday, spokesperson Eleonore Petermann said the spike in physical force was "easy" to account for. As deportations are carried out against peoples' will, individuals may show their discontent by "possibly using physical violence," she explained. To ensure deportations could go ahead, or to protect individuals from harm, cuffs or other methods could be used, though she added these were "a means of last resort," Petermann said.

The Left party's Jelpke said she finds it "intolerable" that more physical force is used against desperate people "to send them back to miserable conditions in their home countries or to transit countries." There are many shocking reports about brutal deportations, she added.

Rights groups says deportations lack transparency

Jelpke noted that, for example, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture in May called on Germany to refrain from the "disproportionate and unreasonable" use of force when carrying out deportations. German human rights organization Pro Asyl, meanwhile, has reported an increase in the use of physical force during deportations on behalf of both deportees and the authorities. Though Bernd Mesovic, who heads Pro Asyl's legal branch, says there have been more complaints of "excessive force" used by police officers who "collect those destined for deportation or transport them to the airport" than about the airport police themselves.

Mesovic said Germany's practice of deporting individuals is like a "black box" — aside from those directly affected and possibly relatives, there are no independent witnesses of what actually goes on. As a result, there are only the common complaints made about deportations to go on. Mesovic said that growing calls for deportations from German lawmakers could be to blame for the reports of increased physical force by the authorities.

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Marcel Fürstenau
Marcel Fürstenau Berlin author and reporter on current politics and society.
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