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What are Germany's deportations rules?

December 11, 2020

Germany's Interior Ministry says a ban on deporting Syrians will not get extended. Critics see this as a violation of international law protecting refugees. Here is a look at the legal backdrop.

A departing plane seen through barbed wire
The number of individuals deported from Germany drops from year to yearImage: Daniel Kubirski/picture-alliance

The ban on deportation, which has been regularly renewed since 2012, is intended to protect Syrians in Germany from being forcibly returned to the ongoing conflict in their home country.

That has meant even rejected asylum-seekers, including criminals, must be allowed to remain in Germany. Critics say there is no safe way to return Syrians to their country.

But following a virtual meeting with Germany's 16 state interior ministers, federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced deportation would be decided on a case-by-case basis starting January 1.

Why has the ban been lifted?

Germany's toleration of rejected asylum-seekers, including those with criminal records, has been a regular rallying cry of the far-right in their campaign against migrants, especially from predominantly Muslim parts of the world.

Their case got a boost this year when a 20-year-old Syrian was arrested for allegedly stabbing two men on a street in Dresden, killing one. Prosecutors say he had a criminal record and was under police surveillance for, among other things, Islamist connections. His asylum application had already been rejected, but he was allowed to remain in Germany with what is known as a "tolerated" status.

The multifaceted civil war in Syria, which has killed more than 387,000 people and displaced millions since 2011, helped allow the suspect to stay in Germany.

"Those who commit crimes or pursue terrorist aims to do serious harm to our state and our population should and will have to leave our country," Hans-Georg Engelke, state secretary at the Interior Ministry, told reporters on Friday.

Of the approximately 770,000 Syrians who have come to Germany in the last several years seeking protection from war and persecution, the interior ministers said only about 90 are considered threats. These individuals may now face deportation.

Very little is expected to happen 

Aside from travel restrictions due to the coronavirus, expulsions to Syria would remain next to impossible for procedural reasons. "There are no state institutions in Syria with which we have diplomatic relations," said Boris Pistorius, the state interior minister of Lower Saxony.

He and his party, the Social Democrats (SPD), oppose lifting the deportation ban for Syrians and tried but failed to have it extended another six months.

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Who can get deported? 

Germany deported over 22,000 people in 2019, according to the Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb.) The number of deportations has dropped every year since a 2016 peak of more than 25,000.

Albanians, Nigerians, Georgians, Russians, and Serbians were the top five nationalities to be forced out of Germany in 2019, each with more than 1,000 deportees. About 930 people from Afghanistan and 860 from Iraq were deported in the same period.

Deportation from Germany does not necessarily mean sending people back to their home countries. According to the bpb, nearly 40% of those deported in 2019 were transferred to other countries within the European Union, mostly to France and Italy.

What prevents deportation?

Individuals may not be deported to countries where they face a threat to their life through war or persecution. Doing so would violate the European Convention on Human Rights, which also forbids subjecting people to torture.

Several factors determine whether deportation actually happens and how long it takes to see it through. Migrants and their advocates can contest deportation orders, which takes time to go through a court process.

Rejected asylum applicants can take their case to a "hardship commission"  that in turn can recommend to the German interior minister to suspend deportation. The minister, however, has the right to reject the recommendation and proceed with the deportation.

Mental or physical illness is grounds to prevent deportation.

A common delay is due to the absence of travel or identity documents, as authorities have to verify the person they are deporting. The receiving country can also delay, or outright refuse repatriation.

The last resort may be physical resistance. Flight crews have refused to board a person if they deem him or her a danger to other passengers. Asylum officials, however, tend to frown upon such behavior, encouraging them to push ahead with the deportation process at a later date.

But deportation is not always the end of a person's time in the country they were removed from — several individuals who had been deported returned to Germany and to apply for asylum again.