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Why rejected asylum seekers are seldom deported

Volker Wagener / dc
January 14, 2016

In no other industrialized nation have so many people applied for asylum in the past year than in Germany. Around half of the applications are rejected, but that seldom has consequences for the applicant.

Passau Deutschland Registrierung Migranten Zelt
Image: Getty Images/S.Gallup

In this digital age, it's not just millions of banal emails that are sent around the world, but also important messages. Information that can spark a massive reaction. Like the fact that in Germany, the risk of being deported is pretty small despite a rejected asylum application. Refugees know this, and it's one of the reasons why Germany remains their preferred destination.

Wilfred Burghardt, the former leader of a committee on repatriation known as AG Rück, says the flaws in Germany's deportation system are a significant "pull factor." Clearly, the Achilles' heel of Germany's generous asylum law is the lack of consequences that follow rejection. The biggest obstacles to deportation are:

Unknown identity

Around 80 percent of asylum seekers arrive in Germany with fake papers, or no papers at all. That's especially true for migrants from countries where there is no war or persecution. Aid organizations say that many people opt for fake papers because there are no legal means to enter Germany. But it's not possible to deport a person without any papers once their application for asylum has been rejected. Even once the country of origin has been established, many states refuse to take their citizens back.

Deutschland Asylsuchende in Berlin
Refugees waiting to register in BerlinImage: Reuters/S. Loos

Disappearing before deportation day

Until recently, it was the case that once an applicant had exhausted all legal means to be granted asylum, the authorities would assign a date for deportation. But in many cases, the person could no longer be found on that day. Now, the system has changed so that asylum seekers are no longer told on which day they are to be deported. In some cases, families hide one of their children with friends or relatives in order to delay deportation. Following verdicts from the European Court for Human Rights, taking people into custody prior to deportation is no longer allowed.

Legal hurdles

Rejected asylum seekers do have some legal recourse. Refugee organizations will often help them file an appeal, so that the decision is reviewed. Certain illnesses or courses of therapy can help delay deportation or at least allow the applicant to remain in the country as an illegal foreigner. Once that status has been exhausted, there is still the hardship application, and as a last option, church asylum.

Infografik Deportations from Germany have risen sorted by German federal states ENG

Overtaxed bureaucracy

The massive increase in the number of refugees and, correspondingly, asylum applications, almost brought German bureaucracy to its knees. At times, there were more than 600,000 unprocessed applications on hold. In the meantime, the immigration authorities and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Nuremberg have hired additional staff. Applications are now supposed to be processed in three months, and not the six months or longer that was the case previously.

Psychological inhibitions

Nobody likes to deport people. That seems to explain the psychological resistance that can be observed at the German state level, given that the states are responsible for more than 90 percent of deportations. Local politicians seldom go on the offensive when it comes to repatriation decisions; they fear the negative headlines that would follow, for example, when a family of six is driven to the airport and forced to board a plane.

But such inhibitions are weakening in the face of the uninterrupted influx of refugees. In addition, more countries, such as Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro, have been declared safe countries of origin, so that applicants from these countries can be sent back. There is also an ongoing discussion about whether or not to extend safe country status to Morocco and Algeria.

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