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Skepticism over anti-asylum ads

Jacob ResneckAugust 19, 2015

Germany's migration agency is taking out newspaper and online ads warning would-be refugees - especially from the Balkans - against seeking asylum in Germany. Experts say the approach will likely have little effect.

Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

This month, Germany has spent an undisclosed amount of money on advertising campaigns in traditional and online media to dissuade would-be migrants in western Balkan states from seeking a new life in the country.

The effort has parallels with a government campaign in Denmark that has tried to convince "economic migrants" that they aren't welcome. It also comes as the European Union as a whole is dealing with an unprecedented influx of migrants, many fleeing conflict in Syria and elsewhere and arriving to the EU via Greece and Hungary.

A four-minute video produced by The German Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) shows migrants being processed by national police, herded through an airport, and sent back to their countries of origin. The people are understandably glum, the officials are dour, and the weather is grey.

"Do not ruin yourself and your families financially and economically," a narrator drones. "Asylum applications from people from Western Balkan countries have only in a few exceptional cases been likely to succeed."

The narrator then explains that those deported would be banned from the entire Schengen area and billed for the costs of deportation.

Infografik Flüchtlinge in die EU Ursprungsländer Englisch

Controversy over 'safe countries'

According to government figures, Germany is on track to receive an unprecedented 800,000 migrants this year. Officials say the government should be able to pick and choose who gets into the country, and automatically exclude migrants from "safe countries of origin." That designation especially applies to the Balkans, from where migrants have come to Germany for decades.

"The idea of extending the safe countries of origin to countries in the western Balkans must not be a taboo," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said earlier this month. "We can only maintain the acceptance of the people of Germany for taking in people in need if we also work on credible efforts to speed up proceedings and provide clarity for those who have no chance of asylum," he added.

Karte Von Deutschland als sicher eingestufte Herkunftsländer Englisch

According to BAMF, more than 76,000 people from Albania and the former Yugoslavia applied for asylum in Germany in the first half of 2015 - over twice as many as the 34,428 applications from Syrians fleeing civil war. The applicants included more than 50,000 Albanians and ethnically Albanian Kosovars attempted to claim asylum in Germany in the first half of 2015. And the Interior Ministry has heavily targeted those groups with its ads, though many doubt the effectivenenss of that plan.

"These little videos and scare tactics will have very little effect," Olsi Vullnetari, an Oxford-based expert on Albanian migration, told DW. "The German politicians, the Albanian politicians have tried to tell Albanians that they have very little chance at asylum. But that has not hurt their willingness to try."

Even German officials acknowledge that the effectiveness of the advertising campaign will be hard to measure. BAMF spokesman Mehmet Ata told DW that Germany is dealing with a very fluid crisis.

"In order to launch these kind of awareness campaigns, you need to be flexible," Ata said. "You can't plan them six months ahead of time, because the refugee situation is constantly changing."

What's to lose?

Migration experts say Germany's public information campaign will likely not dissuade many people who are motivated by harsh economic realities.

"Germany is the economic powerhouse of Europe, as people in the Balkans doubtless know, and while their material circumstances don't change, they will seek opportunities in the most likely places regardless of the kinds of messages Germany attempts to send out," Michael Flynn, executive director of the Geneva-based Global Detention Project, told DW.

"Whatever impact these kinds of campaigns may have - and any evidence of purported effectiveness is slim and difficult to even define - there is no evidence that they can ever be more than temporary," Flynn added.

Stigmatizing migrants

Caseworkers who have day-to-day contact with applicants for asylum bristle at the idea that an individual might be considered "just an economic migrant."

"To condemn someone as not a genuine asylum-seeker or a refugee because they are living in a country in which they are living in poverty is I think a very dubious course of argument," Sonya Landesmann, an intercultural psychotherapist who works with asylum applicants in London, told DW.

Negative campaigning in the United Kingdom has had little effect other than to create a more poisonous atmosphere for vulnerable sections of the population, she said.

"The people that I see are utterly desperate," Landesmann said, "and all that this will do is make them feel more psychologically vulnerable, afraid and unwelcome."