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Germany, North Africa split over migrants

Moncef Slimi
January 10, 2017

The deportation of illegal North African migrants has sparked a public debate in Germany. Maghreb countries, however, have not seen the movement of their citizens to Europe as a main concern.

Deutschland Demonstration gegen Flüchtlingspolitik in Leipzig
Image: DW/I. Mellouk

Despite the bad weather and security measures taken by strict European countries to deter illegal immigration, economic migrants from all over North Africa are still reaching the shores of Italy and Spain. Many are stranded in the snow on the Balkan route to Germany.

As European countries such as Germany continue to debate deportation and the influx of migrants, North African countries have put the issue on the backburner while they address political and economic problems domestically.  

German fears

Reports in the German media and statements from politicians indicate two growing concerns in the country. First, the number of illegal migrants from the Maghreb is increasing at a time when the total number of refugee arrivals has fallen in Germany. Second, crime rates among younger North Africans in Germany are high - figures published at the end of 2016 show that North Africans make up 20 percent of all convicted foreign criminals. This is in spite of the fact that the proportion of North African migrants generally does not exceed 2 percent of all migrants in the country.

Berlin is putting more pressure on North African governments to find solutions as German authorities deport thousands of people whose asylum requests have been rejected. Germany is attempting to classify Maghreb states as "safe countries" of origin, which makes deportations easier, and provide their governments with more development assistance if they cooperate on deportation requests.

Deutschland Bundesparteitag der Grünen Cem Özdemir
Özdemir has rejected labeling all North African countries 'safe'Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Thissen

But some opposition parties in Germany, such as the Greens and its chairman Cem Özdemir, objected to the "safe countries" classification, citing human rights violations. The Greens believe more should be done to facilitate the process for North African citizens to obtain visas and come to Germany legally, whether it be for school or work.  

The debate in Germany is raging over the relationship between security issues and immigration as the country's national election looms on the horizon. North African countries, however, do not seem to consider the issue a priority. Experts believe the local governments, in the face of more significant domestic issues, might may not see the benefit of investigating their citizens' illegal migration to Europe. 

Many North African migrants are younger - young people account for up to 70 percent of the population of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Challenges for young people

The oil-and-gas rich country of Algeria is shrouded in uncertainty over its future under frail President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and declining energy revenues. Young people face more challenges and ever higher rates of unemployment and poverty there. According to the latest reports from the World Bank, about 50 percent of people under the age of 20 have no real employment prospects. Oil revenues have declined by about 30 percent, and the state treasury has lost nearly 35 billion euros (around $37 billion).

Algerien Präsident Abd al-Aziz Bouteflika
Algeria's future is uncertain under ailing President BouteflikaImage: Getty Images/AFP/E. Feferberg

Morocco, the most stable of the Maghreb countries, responded to the 2011 Arab Spring protests with constitutional and social reforms. Yet the country's economy, supported by Europe and the Gulf states, is stagnant. There are large groups of marginalized youth in poor neighborhoods and outlying towns. Youth unemployment rates in the cities, particularly among university graduates, has risen to roughly 39 percent.

In Tunisia, six years have passed since the regime of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled, and the small country now is a fledgling democracy. Yet social and economic problems still remain. Unemployment sits at 15 percent, with the southern and western parts of the country particularly hard-hit. These regions were the cradle of the revolution in 2011. 

Demonstrators in Tunisia have taken action against German Chancellor Angela Merkel's newfound deportation policy. Last Sunday, in the streets of the capital, Tunis, demonstrators held up a banner in German reading, "Tunisia is not the garbage of Germany!"

Tunesien Demonstration in Tunis
Tunisians have demonstrated against the return of jihadists from abroadImage: Reuters/Z. Souissi

Tough consequences

For migrant North Africans, Europe used to be a refuge from unemployment and marginalization, but now it's turned into a nightmare. Italy and Spain now are witnessing economic downturns of their own.   

Only 1 to 2 percent of the North Africans now in Germany have received asylum. They are at particular risk of being attracted to organized crime networks or extremist groups. The problem only increases the negative image of Maghreb countries in Germany - especially Morocco and Tunisia, which rely heavily on tourism. It could also put Germany's development aid to these countries at risk. 

The North African communities in Germany, such as Düsseldorf's Eller Strasse neighborhood and the Kalk district of Cologne, are facing backlash. Community representatives complain that those from the North African community who commit crimes make it easier for people to be prejudiced toward the group as a whole. They believe that the latest controversy in Germany over the term "Nafris," as used by the Cologne police during the security measures for New Year's Eve, could negatively impact North African communities in Germany that are already well-assimilated.

Deutschland Razzia in Düsseldorf -
Police Düsseldorf have carried out searches the city's in the North African district Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Hitij

Rashid Amjahid, an official of the Maghrebi Culture and Science Association, told the "Rheinische Post" newspaper last week that the police raids in Düsseldorf's North African district in search of young people suspected of violence, theft or drugs, have not yielded results. Instead, he said, they have only damaged the reputation of neighborhood residents and shopkeepers. Amjahid called on Germany to address the deeper problems posed by certain individuals, without tying the behavior to their cultural background.

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