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Germany debates deportations to Afghanistan, Syria

June 7, 2024

A deadly knife attack that killed a police officer has triggered demands to allow deportations to Afghanistan. Anti-immigration rhetoric is being stepped up ahead of the elections for the European Parliament.

Police officers lay down flowers at a makeshift memorial to local police officer Rouven L. on June 07, 2024 in Mannheim, Germany
Germany is mourning a young police officer who was stabbed and killed in an attack that has triggered a debate on deportationsImage: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Colleagues, family and politicians converged on the city square in Mannheim on Friday to remember the young policeman who sustained deadly injuries one week ago. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid flowers.

A 25-year-old man originally from Afghanistan, who is married to a German woman and has two children, was arrested on suspicion of having stabbed five people at an anti-Islam rally, including the fatal stabbing of the 29-year-old police officer. The suspect was also injured and is now in police custody. He reportedly came to Germany ten years ago as an unaccompanied minor. His asylum application was rejected, but he was permitted to stay in the country under a provision known as "tolerated status" (Duldung). Police are now investigating and a criminal trial is likely to follow.

People accused of criminal acts in Germany are required to be tried in a German court, whether or not they hold German nationality, and, if convicted, serve a possible prison sentence.

Only after serving their sentence are foreign offenders potentially expelled from the country — meaning that their residence permit is revoked. They ultimately face deportation: forcefully being brought to their country of origin if they do not leave Germany of their own accord.

Germany's chancellor raises specter of new deportations

According to the Residence Act, deportation is carried out if the foreign citizen "endangers public security and order, the free democratic basic order or other significant interests of the Federal Republic of Germany," which applies to convicted offenders who have committed crimes "against life, physical integrity, sexual self-determination or property." Incitement to hatred against parts of the population or membership in a criminal or terrorist organization is considered particularly serious grounds for deportation.

The German government's interest in expelling the foreigner is weighed against the individual's interest to stay. Deportation is unlikely, for example, if the offender was born in Germany or has lived here for many years or if he or she is at risk of persecution in their country of origin. Germany does not deport people to war zones.

Individuals cannot be repatriated if they have no valid documents, if there is no country willing to take them in, if their country of origin is a war zone or if they themselves have serious health issues that cannot be treated in their countries of origin. Some people simply cannot be tracked down by authorities.

More than 200,000 people currently reside in Germany despite having been issued an order to leave. Most of these individuals are rejected asylum applicants. Only a very small number are criminal offenders.

Deportations to Afghanistan were suspended when the Taliban retook power in 2021. Whether deportation to the country of origin is considered legally and factually possible is determined by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees and the courts.

Following the attack in Mannheim, Chancellor Olaf Scholz addressed the Bundestag on Thursday, three days ahead of the elections for the European Parliament. Curbing immigration has been high on the agenda during the campaign.

"I am outraged when someone who has sought protection here then commits the most serious crimes," Scholz told lawmakers. "Such offenders should be deported — even if they come from Syria or Afghanistan," he said. "Criminals and terrorist threats have no place here."

Convicted criminals are also not deported to Syria, as civil war has been raging there since 2011.

young men leaving a charter plane in Kabul
In 2023, Germany modified its laws on deportations, but this has not led to a noticeable rise in numbersImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

The center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has long been keen on stepping up deportations. Herbert Reul, the Interior Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, the country's most populous state, pointed out that many Syrian nationals who came here fleeing the war several years ago had since traveled back for family reunions. "If people can travel to these areas for a vacation, then people who misbehave in our country can also be sent there because then it doesn't seem to be dangerous there," Reul said.

Curbing immigration remains a sensitive issue for the center-left federal government, which is made up of Social Democrats, Greens, and neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP). They don't see eye-to-eye on several issues, and deportation is one of them.

And the resumption of deportations to Afghanistan would require a formal agreement with the Taliban. But Germany does not recognize the government in Kabul, so there is nobody with which Berlin could officially negotiate such a repatriation agreement.

Green Party leader Omid Nouripour warned against any negotiations with the Taliban. He told public radio MDR that the Taliban would certainly put a price tag on any agreement: "If we give Islamists money, they can use it to build up networks. Then that is not a contribution to our security either," Nouripour said.

Germany carries out deportations only to countries that are considered "safe," such as EU members, the Balkan states, Senegal and Ghana, and since December Georgia and Moldova.

The Berlin Refugee Council warned in a press release that deportations to war zones constitute a violation of fundamental human rights. Amnesty International (AI) warns against exploiting the outrage over one criminal act as justification for racist agitation.

In his speech to the Bundestag on Thursday, Chancellor Scholz said the more than 20 million individuals with immigration backgrounds who live in Germany are threatened by hate speech and violence. "We will not allow ourselves to be divided," he vowed.

This article was originally written in German.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau