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Cabinet agrees tougher rules for asylum seekers

April 17, 2019

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer presented a plan with rules aimed at making it harder for failed asylum seekers to avoid deportation. The focus is on people who have exhausted all legal avenues to obtain asylum.

Asylum seekers being taken to an aircraft leaving Germany in 2017
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H.Schmidt

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer gained Cabinet backing Wednesday for his Orderly Return Bill (Geordnete-Rückkehr-Gesetz).

The plan will go to parliament for debate, and could pass before the summer recess.

However, German states do not all approve of the plan which would see asylum seekers who are to be deported being held in state jails rather than pre-deportation holding facilities.

Seehofer said his package contained "strong elements" that would facilitate expulsions. Last year, Germany deported about 25,000 people. This represents just over a tenth of the total number of people ordered to leave the country.

The plan contains a series of contentious proposals including:

  • an increase to nearly 1,000 pre-deportation cells in regular jails. Regional ministers say this breaches the tenet that deportees be kept separate from convicted criminals 
  • "collaborative detention" over 14 days to force potential deportees who "disguise" their identities to visit consulates of their presumed home countries to complete departure formalities
  • a new borderline category of "tolerated stays for persons with undetermined identities" that could ban job seeking and impose restrictions on where they live
  • reductions in social welfare grants for asylum seekers already granted asylum in other EU states
  • prosecution of civil servants who warn people being expelled about pending deportations 
  • an extension from three to five years for reevaluation of the asylum status of individuals granted asylum in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

According to the Federal Interior Ministry some 240,000 people had been told to leave Germany by the end of February. Of these, 184,000 were deemed to have tolerated stays (Duldungen) due to illness or unverified identities.

Following Europe's 2015 refugee crisis, asylum applications filed in Germany rose to 722,370 in 2016. Last January, Seehofer said Germany had "struck a balance" in 2018 by lowering the total to between 180,000 and 200,000.

Language courses

Cabinet also endorsed legal changes proposed by Labor Minister Hubertus Heil to improve the integration of those people allowed to stay, or awaiting decisions likely to lead to approvals.

Attendance at German language and integration courses would be allowed nine months after  the arrival of some applicants.

Currently, these courses are restricted to people recognized as having good prospects for residence, notably from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Iran and Iraq.

Reactions to the plan

The package drew criticism Pro Asyl [Pro Asylum], a Frankfurt-based alliance of church and secular groups, which said the plan was focused on "deprivation, increased detentions, and the forced eviction of refugees from Germany by withholding welfare assistance." 

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), claimed the government was "hindering deportations." 

Opposition Left Party co-leader Bernd Riexinger accused Seehofer of acting like a "Wild West Sheriff," setting false priorities at a time when his ministry should be seeking answers to Germany's rental housing and apartment crisis.

The Greens' Filiz Polat described the draft legislation as "one-sided, saying it was "highly questionable" in terms of its constitutionality, and "noxious" in relation to Germany's integration efforts.

ipj/jm (AFP, epd, KNA dpa)

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