The German Green Party has called on the government to re-assess Germany's list of "safe countries of origin." The party believes that many countries on the list, especially Ghana and Senegal, are not safe at all.
The Green Party has reminded the German government of its obligation to come up with a report every two years on countries it has listed as "safe" to send migrants back to following increasing concerns about human rights abuses in countries in Africa.
The Greens' parliamentary faction submitted an official information request to the German government with a list of questions about Ghana, which has been on Germany's list of safe countries since 1993. For the Green migration spokesman Volker Beck, the human rights situation in the West African country is "extremely problematic."
According to its answer to the Green Party, the German government recognizes that Ghana has outlawed homosexual activity, and that laws against genital mutilation and child slavery are often not enforced. On top of that, the government agrees with human rights groups that mentally ill people and those with HIV and AIDS are often discriminated against.
But Bernd Mesovic, deputy chairman of the refugee protection organization Pro Asyl, says the government is trying to make it easier for itself by keeping countries like Ghana on its list. "You can't just drag around ancient lists as appendixes to the law," he told DW. "It might sound plausible [in the case of Ghana], because of its relatively democratic constitution, but there are many traumatic reports from there, especially from the experiences of gay people. ... Because of the attacks it is clear that this country doesn't belong on the list."
Law against homosexuality not enough
Despite this, of the 1,171 Ghanaians who applied for asylum in Germany in 2014, only 11 were allowed to stay in the country. As the "taz" newspaper reported, at least one of those rejected was a gay man sent back by an administrative court in Düsseldorf on the grounds that the illegality of homosexuality was not enough to prove he was in danger. Rather, the man had to show that "punishment really was applied in practice."
Similar concerns have been raised about the other African country on Germany's safe list, Senegal, where some 58 people have been arrested for homosexual activity since 2011, and where there have been widespread reports of police violence against the political opposition loyal to the former President Abdoulaye Wade.
People from safe countries of origin have worse chances of staying in Germany if they apply for asylum, because the burden of proof falls on them to show that they as an individual are under threat in their home country. "The assumption is that no persecution is happening in that country, so the question [they are posed] is: 'why is it different in your case?'" said Mesovic.
"They usually have little money and little advice. Often they are asked during the process, 'Don't you just want to leave voluntarily? You don't have much chance anyway,'" added Mesovic. Indeed, recent figures have shown that the number of voluntary departures by asylum seekers have increased, as have the number of deportations.
On top of this, thanks to the asylum law reforms introduced by Chancellor Angela Merkel in the last few months, people from safe countries have a worse chance of finding a job or integrating in the country, because they have to stay in the asylum seekers' homes until their cases have been processed.
"With the process costs, if they want legal help, there is the assumption that their case is useless, and they get no help with the legal costs," Volker Beck told DW. "They have a worse access to justice."
Germany has been expanding the list of safe countries rapidly in recent months in an effort to cut out bureaucracy by making it easier to turn down migrants applying for asylum. Before 2014, the list included only the European Union member states, plus Ghana and Senegal. By the end of 2015, six Balkan countries had been added - Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, and Kosovo - much to the dismay of campaigners who said Roma people were subject to discrimination in those countries.
In May this year, the German Bundestag voted to add three North African countries to the list - Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria - a move that many in the German media interpreted as a direct reaction to the New Year's Eve sexual assault cases in Cologne (many of the perpetrators were thought to be of North African origin).
But the safe countries list does not in practice speed up asylum processes, because of the legal objections that can be brought to bear. For that reason, Mesovic believes its main purpose is symbolic. "The asylum seekers from the Maghreb countries are now the group with whom they want to show that toughness is appropriate," he said. "Even though the category of safe country is not really necessary - you could turn those people away individually too."