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Germany deported more than 750 people to Africa in 2020. Most African countries are ill-prepared to welcome rejected asylum-seekers, and activists say the coronavirus pandemic could make matters worse.
Toure explains the nightmare he had to endure in January, as he faced the real prospect of being deported. "I became sick with worry. I could hardly move for three weeks. I was nauseous, dizzy, couldn't go outside," he told DW.
To protect his identity, Toure only uses his last name. He fears repercussions, not from German authorities but from security forces in his native Guinea. Toure said Guinean police arrested and tortured him before he fled the West African nation because he was affiliated with an opposition party.
Normally, someone like Toure would be welcome in Germany. He speaks fluent German, has a steady job in a flat-sharing community for young people and plans to finish his studies in the summer. But his right to stay in Germany is far from guaranteed. Despite avoiding deportation in January, authorities gave Toure a probation period of just six months.
"Sometimes I can't sleep because I think someone will come for me in the middle of the night," Toure said, adding that his studies have suffered because he is sometimes so nervous that he cannot focus on exams.
Toure's only way out of his predicament is to provide the German authorities with a passport to prove his identity. Yet, the Guinean Embassy in Berlin does not issue passports, so Toure would have to fly back to Guinea and apply for one there. This, however, is unthinkable for Toure.
"Probably the same torture that I experienced then will happen again. Who knows, I might arrive at the airport, and after that, no one will hear from me again," Toure said, struggling to get the words out.
Toure has a good reason to be scared. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, deportations from Germany have continued. Last year, 755 people were deported from Germany, according to the federal government. Most were sent to north African countries like Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Others were sent to Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia.
Deportation flights have already begun this year. In January, 24 people, including convicted criminals, were flown from Munich to Nigeria.
Refugee activist Rex Osa is against this practice. His network Refugees 4 Refugees supports Nigerian-born refugees in southern Germany.
"They are bundled on board close together for a six or seven-hour flight. If there is an infected person on board, it's clear they could be infected with COVID," he told DW.
This identity card guarantees refugees a suspension of deportation notice — normally just a temporary solution
Some fear that deportations could increase the risk of the coronavirus spreading in the refugees' countries of origin.
Osa is not the only one demanding a halt to deportations. Refugee organizations and large churches have voiced similar concerns. Many African countries do not have enough doctors, ICU beds or ventilators to care for coronavirus patients. Vaccination programs are also only available in a few countries. Another problem for migrants facing deportation is the dire economic prospects at home. Many do not know how they will survive.
German courts have become stricter in determining who can be deported. In December, an administrative court in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg stopped the deportation of an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan. It ruled that Afghanistan's situation had become so bad because of the pandemic that deported migrants with no families or assets on the ground faced "destitution."
Additionally, some migrants — like Toure — face deportation simply because they do not have documentation to prove who they are. In this pandemic period, getting such official documents can prove especially difficult.
"The pandemic did not deter the authorities from compelling refugees to identify themselves," Osa said. "Refugees were still being sent letters giving them time frames by which they would have to submit their documents, even though the borders were closed and the embassies were not functioning."
After the collective deportation to Nigeria in January, the Bavarian State Office for Asylum and Repatriation stated: "The current coronavirus pandemic poses new challenges for the State Office for Asylum and Repatriation, as well as for the countries of origin. The current unusual medical situation due to the coronavirus pandemic does not fundamentally change the current legal standpoint."
The Interior Ministry has so far not responded to DW's request for comment.
Meanwhile, Toure is hoping for a happy ending. The Guinean Embassy in Paris is scheduled to start processing passport applications, and he hopes he will be allowed to travel there to apply for a passport. Then perhaps Toure's dream of staying in Germany and building a future with his girlfriend could come true.
This article has been adapted from German.