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Germany set to ban deportations to Iran

November 30, 2022

In Germany, the interior minister, some regional governments and refugee organizations want Iranian asylum-seekers to be exempt from deportation. But the conservative opposition argues that criminals must be sent back.

Deportee being led onto a plane
Germany has almost halted deportations to Iran in recent monthsImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

No Iranian citizen seeking refuge in Germany should be deported — that is the view of German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser. The Social Democrat (SPD) lawmaker sees no other choice; given the violent crackdown on demonstrators by the government in Tehran, she believes anything else would be irresponsible. 

The protests in Iran were sparked in September when 22-year-old Kurdish woman Jina Mahsa Amini died after she was arrested by the morality police for not wearing the hijab, as prescribed.

Some of Germany's 16 states have already decided to halt deportations due to the current situation in Iran — Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania —  and Faeser has called for the rest of the states to follow their example.

Demonstrators in Germany holding Iranian flags and banners reading "Woman - life - freedom"
Demonstrators in Germany have taken to the streets in support of solidarity with protests in IranImage: Christoph Strack/DW

"The human rights situation is catastrophic, and the situation is becoming more dramatic by the day," said Lower Saxony Interior Minister Boris Pistorius.

Aminata Toure, the minister for Social Affairs, Youth, Family, Seniors and Equality in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, recently told the state parliament in Kiel that "people from Iran, who are living here, are desperate." She called for their "legal challenges with regards to residency status" to be "reassessed." For the Green Party politician, this can only mean a blanket ban on deportations.

Opposition: 'No free rides' for criminals

But this is by no means a unanimous opinion. Many states are governed by the conservative parties, the Christian Democratic Union and in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, and politicians from these parties are opposed to the idea.

CSU politician Andrea Lindholz explained her objections to DW. "I take a critical view of a general ban on deportation because criminal offenders and people who pose a threat to public safety would also benefit from it," she said. "Nobody should be put at risk of danger to life and limb [if deported], but there should also not be any free rides."

The CSU-led state of Bavaria wants to retain the ability to deport people who commit criminal offenses or who pose a risk to public safety. The situation is the same in CDU-led Saxony.

Lindholz's fellow conservative in the German Bundestag parliament, Christoph de Vries, added in a written response to DW that in asylum procedures, "the assessment of the danger each individual asylum-seeker could face in the event of deportation plays a decisive role … even without issuing a blanket ban on deportations." Therefore, "government opponents, women and homosexuals currently have no need to fear being deported."

A man in a turban stands at a lectern and speaks into a microphone, with Islamic script on the wall behind him
Mullah Soleiman Mousavifar left Germany in November, following a deportation orderImage: hawzahnews

However, when it came to "people who traveled to Germany illegally for economic reasons," sending them back needs to be just as possible as it would be for people who had committed crimes.

"In the case of a general ban, it would not be possible, for example, to deport someone like the deputy leader of the Hamburg Islamic Center (IZH) to Iran," he said, referring to the case of Mullah Soleiman Mousavifar. "This person has had contact with terrorist organizations and would have absolutely nothing to fear in Iran because the IZH receives direct instructions from the mullah regime."

New hope for migrants trapped in German limbo

Pro Asyl says deportees threatened by torture

While opposition politicians want the Foreign Ministry to produce a new report on the situation in Iran, refugee aid organizations maintain there is already enough relevant information. The organization Pro Asyl wrote to DW: "In the case of deportation to a country like Iran, which is known to commit torture, Germany cannot, in our view, ensure that there is no threat of torture there."

Germany must be able to ensure that the people it deports are not tortured upon their return. Pro Asyl also sees no room for exceptions. "This is a universal human right," it wrote. "That means it also applies to criminals and so-called dangerous people." Whoever commits an offense in Germany should "also be brought before the courts and punished in Germany," the aid group added.

Amnesty International takes a similar position, telling DW: "We consider exceptions to a general ban on deportations to be unjustifiable. A halt on deportations applies in principle to all people."

Hardly any Iranians are currently being deported

But how many people are we talking about? According to Interior Ministry figures from October, about 12,000 Iranians who are facing deportation are currently living in Germany. In the first eight months of this year, however, only 31 were sent back to Iran. In all of 2021, that number was 28, mostly people who had committed crimes.

According to the Interior Ministry, these so-called repatriations are still possible in theory, but difficult in practice.

But CSU politician Andrea Lindholz is hoping for a European approach. "It would be helpful if the federal government would ensure a uniform and coordinated approach by the European Union states. But it hasn't done that so far, and I think that is wrong."

Reaching agreements at the European level on matters of asylum and residency is notoriously difficult. Even within Germany, it remains unclear what the states' interior ministers will decide when it comes to the question of halting all deportations to Iran.

This article was originally written in German.

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