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Teenage refugees

Christian Ignatzi / re
October 24, 2013

The case of 15-year-old Leonarda Dibrani triggered outrage and mass protests in France. In Germany, there's less protest, but that's because teenage refugees are treated less harshly.

Asylum seekers in front of a refugee hostel Photo: Patrick Pleul
Image: picture alliance/ZB

Sadaf Walizada enjoys being in Germany. The 12-years old girl originates from Afghanistan and now lives in Berlin where she is in the fifth grade. But a few months ago she and her family were about to be deported to Afghanistan. Sadaf decided to take some action. She contacted President Joachim Gauck and in a letter she described the situation of her family. "My friends supported me, collected signatures and also wrote a letter to the President," said Sadaf. "I was very pleased by the support."

In France the deportation of an under-aged girl caused an outrage. The case of the 15-years old Romni Leonarda triggered nationwide protests. During a school trip the authorities forced her out of a bus full of classmates against the resistance of her teacher. On the same day she was deported to Kosovo where she is now living with her family. After a great deal of discussions French President Hollande offered her to come back to France. Alone, but she did not want to live without her family.

Leonarda Dibrani, 15, expelled from France last week, talks outside a shelter house in the northern town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Friday Oct. 18, 2013. Leonarda Dibrani, taken by police from a school field trip last week then sent to Kosovo with her family, shocked many. Thousands of high school students protested in Paris angry at the expulsion of immigrant children and families like the Dibrani family. The demonstration came as the government was finalising a report on Friday into the treatment of a 15-year-old girl taken by police from a school field trip, then deported to Kosovo with her family as illegal immigrants. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
Leonarda Dibrani's deportation to Kosovo caused an outrage in FranceImage: picture-alliance/AP

There is a lot backing by the German population

In France deportations are part of everyday's life. It had been some 18.000 this year alone. In 2012 Germany deported nearly 7.000 people. For Günter Burkhardt, director of Pro Asyl, this is a reason why there a no mass protests and no solidarity with the deportees in Germany. Another reason is that "France is a centralized state and in Germany deportations are the responsibilities of the federal states," he said. Even there is no mass movement in Germany, there is a lot of support when it comes to protecting people from deportation. "There are many cases where people join together to help their friends," said Burkhardt.

Around 80.000 tolerated foreigners live in Germany. They do not have a residence permit but cannot be deported – for example because of lacking passports. In 2013 there are additional 85.000 asylum seekers. "Relative to the population, Germany is in the European midfield in terms of asylum seekers," said Burkhardt.

In Germany asylum is only granted when a person is politically persecuted in his home country and did not enter Germany from or through a country that is deemed safe like Switzerland or Norway.

In legal terms Germany is only allowed to deport foreigners if they affect the public security, public order or they affect other substantial interests. Foreigners holding a passport and no residence permit are deported if they do not voluntarily leave Germany. There are hardly any minors among them. The interior ministers are hesitant when it comes to minors, says Burkhardt. "However there are cases where people, who grew up in Germany, are deported."

Burkhardt Photo: S. Dege
Günther Burkhardt of Pro Asyl says the new government must change the rulesImage: DW/S. Dege

Two years ago Sadaf Walizada and her family came from Afghanistan to Berlin. The 12-years old could never understand why she and her family should be deported. "My parents tried all to integrate here, they learned German and sent me and my siblings to school, she said in fluent German. When President Gauck answered her she was relieved. Gauck wrote that he is not allowed to intervene but he would ask his staff to inquire with the immigration office. Indeed the family finally got asylum.

A family was separated for eight years

But not everybody is so lucky and gets support from the President. In Germany as in France there are "vicious deportations" as Burkhardt calls them. In 2005 the deportation of the 25-years old pregnant Gazale Salame caused a national outrage. She had to leave her husband and her children. The stateless woman was in possession of a Turkish passport and did not receive a residence permit. Eight years later in 2013 she was allowed to come back to Germany. After much wrangling and many protests the Lower Saxon state parliament gave green lights for her return.

Something like this should never happen again, says Burkhardt. "A residence arrangement must be included in the coalition agreement," he said. The government in France does not yet attempt to reform the asylum and foreigners laws, at least not before the elections in spring 2014. The only improvement for people without a residence permit comes from a minister, he instructed that asylum seekers after five years of residency get the chance to stay. Leonarda and her family were just two and half months short of it.

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