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Berlin delays asylum-seeker returns to Greece

Ian Johnson
January 22, 2015

Germany has delayed forced returns of asylum-seekers to Greece for another year, according to media reports. Greece, a point-of-entry for many immigrants, is accused of substandard treatment of refugee arrivals.

Landesaufnahmebehörde Niedersachsen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Stratenschulte

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has instructed Germany's Office for Migration and Refugees to again delay deportations to Greece of asylum-seekers, according to Cologne newspaper the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger (KStA).

The opposition Left party spokeswoman on German interior affairs, Ulla Jelpka, told the paper it was Germany's fourth such delay and illustrated the "effective failure" of EU policy on asylum-seekers.

In 1990, 12 EU nations adopted the "Dublin Convention" requiring an asylum request to be examined by the member nation where the applicant first entered the EU. The latest version, "Dublin III," has applied since early last year.

Jelpka told the KStA that member nations on the EU's external border, especially Greece and Italy, were overwhelmed in trying to provide humane reception and accommodation.

The KStA and the daily Frankfurter Rundschau reported that documents they had obtained showed de Maiziere's had told the Interior and Petitions committees of German parliament that Greece's handling of asylum-seekers "did not always" comply with European standards.

His instruction to extend a halt on deportations to Greece will be in effect until mid-January 2016, both newspapers said citing the documents.

Bundesinnenminister Thomas de Maizière Winterklausur CSU-Landesgruppe
Expel applicants without proven grounds, says de MaiziereImage: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Hase

De Maiziere on Wednesday rejected calls that Germany explicitly introduce immigration legislation, saying the country already had rules to recruit job-seekers as well as to expel applicants who had no grounds for asylum.

Decisive 2011 ruling

In a ruling in 2011, the European Court of Justice based in Luxembourg barred Belgium from returning an Afghan asylum-seeker to Greece, citing inhumane treatment in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a separate judgment last week, the Berlin Administrative Court cited the 2011 ruling and stopped the deportation from Germany of a Syrian refugee to Hungary, where the asylum-seeker had first applied for refuge.

The Berlin court said Hungary, an EU member, "almost invariably" put asylum-seekers in detention for up to six months without explaining the grounds for doing so and without regular checks of jail conditions.

Hungary's practice breached both the EU's Charta of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention and exposed "systemic deficiencies" in its asylum procedures, the court found.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs responded on Tuesday, saying Budapest maintained tough rules to avoid issues "existing in some Western European countries."

Over 42,700 people sought asylum in Hungary in 2014. Of these 503 requests were approved, little more than 1 percent of the total. Thursday's newspaper reports did not address whether the German Interior Ministry would alter its policy about returning refugees to Hungary under the Dublin agreement.

Boat refugees via Turkey

During the last European summer, Greek Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said Greece was overwhelmed by thousands of migrants who crossed the Aegean from Turkey.

In January 2014, a migrant boat capsized, claiming the lives of nine children and three women, during what the Greek coastguard said was an attempt to tow it to shore. Survivors, however, said the Greek patrol had tried to tow them to back Turkey, which is not an EU member.

German campaign against 'Dublin III'

Last week, a German campaign coalition comprising churches, charities, lawyers associations and the Frankfurt-based lobby group Pro Asyl [Pro Asylum] urged Germany's federal government to end deportations of asylum-seekers to EU nations where they were likely to face "detention, hunger and lack of shelter."

In early January, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union demanded that German processing of an asylum application be completed within six weeks.

The state of Bavaria's interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, said if the Office for Migration and Refugees decided not to grant an applicant asylum then it was the "logical consequence that he must leave our country very quickly."

ipj/sms (epd, AFD, dpa, KNA)