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German parliament passes tighter asylum laws

May 19, 2017

German lawmakers have passed a series of laws concerning the deportation, monitoring and access to personal data of asylum seekers. The new legislation has been met with sharp criticism.

Deutschland Stempel Abgeschoben Symbolbild
Image: Reuters/M. Dalder

German authorities will be allowed to deport rejected asylum seekers more quickly and regularly under a series of new asylum laws passed on Thursday.

The Bundestag said the new laws would guarantee "the improved enforcement of deportation rulings." Rejected asylum seekers deemed to be a security threat will be deported faster or monitored with an electronic ankle bracelet.

Deportation orders against rejected asylum seekers can now be imposed even without assurance that the person in question would be repatriated within three months. A migrant could therefore be issued a deportation order even if the country origin fails to provide the necessary documentation or passport papers. This law was among the key new regulations for the German government, after the Berlin Christmas market attacker, Anis Amri, saw his deportation order waived when the Tunisian government couldn't provide the necessary papers.

Read more: Anis Amri: How a terror suspect eluded German authorities

Authorities, meanwhile, will also be allowed to detain individuals suspected to be a threat to security for a maximum of 10 days, rather than the previous limit of four days.

Another new piece of legislation allows Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) to access asylum seekers' personal electronic devices in order to verify the identities of those without official identification papers.

Infografik Abschiebungen Deutschland ENG

Draft laws further tightened before vote

Any migrant found to have given a false identity upon entering Germany will see their freedom of movement strictly limited. The same penalty would also apply to migrants without the right to remain in Germany, but who nevertheless refuse to leave on their own volition.

German authorities would also instruct asylum seekers deemed to have few prospects in the country to remain in reception centers until their asylum procedures have been completed.

Germany's federal and 16 state governments had already agreed to the new asylum laws back in February. However, on Wednesday the ruling coalition government, made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), introduced a number of stricter laws to the draft bill.

One of the rules introduced at the eleventh hour would prohibit failed asylum seekers from acquiring the right to stay by abusing a law that allows migrant fathers to remain if their child is born in Germany.

Another law would make it easier for state authorities and the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) to share and compare data.

Rights groups and welfare organizations decry new laws

Rights groups, welfare organizations and opposition parties condemned the tighter asylum laws as an assault on fundamental rights of people seeking protection.

The federal government was dismantling several legal hurdles that had been set up to protect people from undue detention, Maria Scharlau, a Berlin-based legal expert for Amnesty International, said. Laws concerning access to migrants' smartphones presented a "major encroachment into the privacy of tens of thousands of people," without providing any particularly robust conditions, she claimed.

Read more: Asylum interviews: a quick decision on Afghans' future

"This law will change Germany from being a host country to one focused on deporting new arrivals," Germany's refugee aid organization, Pro Asyl, said amid its criticism of the bill.

Deutschland Thomas de Maiziere
German Interior Minister de Maiziere has defended the government's controversial new asylum laws.Image: picture alliance/dpa/S. Stache

The social welfare organization AWO warned that the tighter laws would also see an increasing number of people who require protection becoming disenfranchised.

De Maiziere argues against critics

German Interior Minister defended the new laws on Thursday, along with a number of CDU and SPD lawmakers.

"Our position is clear," de Maiziere said. "Help and integration for those who need our protection; hardship and repatriation for those who don't require protection, and in particular for those whose dishonesty makes them culpable.

De Maiziere added that it was unacceptable that certain "asylum seekers are allowed to go unpunished despite having registered under a host of different names and nationalities."