German deportations to Afghanistan to restart next week: reports

Just weeks after a spate of attacks in Kabul forced Germany to halt deportations to Afghanistan, plans for more flights are reportedly afoot. Failed Afghan asylum-seekers could be forced home as early as next week.

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Germany to resume deportations to Afghanistan

Germany could restart its program of deportation of failed asylum-seekers to Afghanistan as soon as next week, German media reported on Thursday.

Germany halted its controversial deportation program earlier this month after the Afghan capital of Kabul was struck with one of its deadliest suicide bombings.

Separate reports from public broadcaster NDR and news magazine Der Spiegel said a new deportation flight to Kabul from Leipzig could leave on Wednesday.

Those reports were not officially confirmed.

Read more: The dark side of Germany’s deportation policy

Read more: Nuremberg court frees young Afghan arrested ahead of deportation

After the bombing, Germany’s federal and state governments agreed on a suspension of deportations to Afghanistan until a further security assessment by the Foreign Ministry. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the halt would likely last until July.

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No future for Afghan deportees

Merkel also said they would continue to deport criminals and security threats as well as those who did not want to release their identity.

Rights groups decry policy

Many German politicians and rights groups have long argued that Merkel’s government was not justified in sending refugees back to Afghanistan due to safety concerns.

Günter Burkhardt, head of the refugee rights organization, Pro Asyl, said it was “incomprehensible and appalling” that the deportations should begin again.

He also warned that the broad wording of the policy puts many Afghans in danger. For example, migrants seeking protection but who do not own a passport could be seen to be refusing to their release their identity. The terms “criminal” and “security risks” are also subjective and could be interpreted very broadly, he said.

By the end of April Germany deported a total of 8,620 failed asylum-seekers this year, according to a report by Die Welt am Sonntag, which cited figures from Germany’s federal police. Last year it deported more than 25,000.

Some 11,195 failed asylum seekers returned to their home country voluntarily in the year until April. In 2016, a total of 54,006 people chose the voluntary return program, which covers certain costs, including travel expenses.

Read more: German Foreign Minister Gabriel calls for peace talks with Taliban

Read more: Afghanistan: sent back to a war zone

Dangers facing returnees

Despite Afghanistan not being on Germany’s official list of “safe countries of origin,” the federal government has nevertheless been pushing for speedier repatriations of failed asylum seekers following last December’s Berlin terror attack.

The federal government has repeatedly said that “some parts” of the country are now safe and therefore suitable for Afghan returnees, although several state governments are openly challenging this position, saying none of Afghanistan can yet be classified as safe.

Burkhardt said that Afghans returning from Europe find themselves in particular danger, pointing out that anyone found dressed in supposed western clothes would be immediately viewed as a collaborator with the west.

Afghanistan’s deteriorating security situation prompted German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to call for peace talks with the Taliban earlier this month.

“One doesn’t make peace with friends, rather with enemies,” Gabriel told the weekly Bild am Sonntag newspaper, saying the Taliban must be negotiated with in order to find a political solution in Afghanistan.

The radical Islamist movement, made up largely ethnic Pashtuns, still controls or influences nearly 40 percent of the country, proving their resiliency 16 years after a US-led invasion of the country.

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No future for deportees to Afghanistan



EU launches legal cases against Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic for not taking in refugees

The European Commission has launched legal action against three EU member states, claiming Poland, Hungary, and Czech Republic have not “taken the necessary action” in dealing with migrants and refugees.

Infringement proceedings were launched by Brussels on Tuesday.

Warsaw, Budapest, and Prague have been accused of not fulfilling their obligations in dealing with migrants and refugees according to a 2015 plan.

The three EU states have acted “in breach of their legal obligations,” the commission said in a statement, adding that it had previously warned the countries to observe “their commitments to Greece, Italy and other member states.”

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland “have not yet taken the necessary action,” the statement says, claiming that the three EU members “have not yet relocated a single person.”

“Against this background… the Commission has decided to launch infringement procedures against these three Member States.”

Since January, other countries within the bloc have relocated almost 10,300 people from Italy and Greece, according to the commission. “The pace of relocation has significantly increased,” it added, saying it has witnessed “a fivefold increase” compared to the same period last year.

In total, nearly 21,000 asylum-seekers have been distributed throughout Europe, some 14,000 from Greece and the rest from Italy.

READ MORE: German men claiming paternity of migrant children in exchange for cash, prosecutors say

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka slammed Brussels’ decision and called its plan to deal with migrants “dysfunctional,” Reuters reports.

“The European Commission blindly insists on pushing ahead with dysfunctional quotas which decreased citizens’ trust in EU abilities and pushed back working and conceptual solutions to the migration crisis,” the news agency cited Sobotka as saying in an email statement.

Warsaw has also reacted to Brussels’ decision, saying it intends to carry on with its current migration policy and does not intend to accept its quota of refugees. It is ready to defend its right to not take in refugees in an EU court, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) on Tuesday.

The initiation of infringement procedures would only further escalate EU divisions, and push the bloc further away from a “necessary political compromise” to solve the migrant crisis on the continent, the Polish official said.

He also called the 2015 plan “erroneous,” and argued that Warsaw contributes to solving the migrant crisis by “engaging in protection of EU’s external borders and systematically strengthening its humanitarian involvement in the region.”

However, in its Tuesday statement, the EU Commission cited its migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, as saying, “When it comes to relocation, let me be crystal clear: the implementation of the Council Decisions on relocation is a legal obligation, not a choice.”

Relocation works if there is political will,” Brussels claimed.

READ MORE: ‘Ultimatum’: EU paints Hungary as ‘villain’ in migrant dispute, trying to pressure court – minister

In September 2015, EU ministers took up a plan to relocate over 100,000 migrants who have already reached the continent, throughout Europe. However, not all EU states have found the measures acceptable, saying that the migrant crisis cannot be solved through obligatory quotas.

The Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary have been staunchly opposing the plan. Despite warnings from Brussels, Budapest is determined to tighten its policy towards asylum seekers and carry on with its own border fence plan.

Angela Merkel announces temporary halt on Afghan deportations after Kabul bombing

A deadly blast in Kabul this week reignited the debate on deporting refugees from Germany to war-torn Afghanistan. The chancellor has now temporarily halted expulsions for all except criminals and security threats.

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Merkel: ‘Voluntary returns and deportation of criminals will continue’

Germany will temporarily suspend deportations to Afghanistan after a deadly bombing in Kabul this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday.

Commenting on the massive blast that killed at least 90 people in downtown Kabul, Merkel said it was time to reassess the security situation in the country.

Federal and state governments agreed on a suspension of deportations to Afghanistan until a further security assessment by the foreign ministry, Merkel said in Berlin, adding that the suspension would most likely continue until July.

Pending the new assessment, Germany will continue to promote voluntary return and would keep deporting criminal offenders and threats to security on a case by case basis, Merkel said.

The attack was a reason to “take another proper look” at Afghanistan, with the German Foreign Ministry examining the threats “province by province.”

Read: Afghanistan: sent back to a war zone

Many German politicians have long argued that Merkel’s government was not justified in sending refugees back to Afghanistan due to safety concerns.  The argument escalated after the latest attack in the heavily guarded diplomatic heart of Kabul. In response, the German Green Party on Thursday launched a parliamentary motion to halt the deportations. The largest opposition party in the German parliament, the Left Party, derided deportations as “inhumane.”

As the news of the Wednesday attack broke, Germany was preparing to send a plane full of refugees back to Kabul. The plane was delayed, with Berlin explaining that German diplomats in Kabul were too preoccupied with the blast to deal with the returnees.

However, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that the flight would be rescheduled as soon as possible.

Failed Afghan asylum seekers board a plane that will take them back to Afghanistan (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Maurer)Germany has sent several plane loads of failed asylum seekers in a controversial series of deportations

Earlier, Joachim Herrmann, interior minister in the German state of Bavaria, had told the media that it was still “feasible” to return the refugees to Afghanistan.

“The latest attack in Kabul was terrible,” he told newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe. “But we don’t have to stop the deportations because of it.”

Read: Types of protection in Germany for asylum seekers

Watch video01:39

A would be suicide bomber shares his story

No place is safe

Merkel’s main rival in the upcoming parliamentary elections, Martin Schulz, had urged for a halt to deportations at least until the assessment is complete.

“In the light of what happened yesterday, I don’t think we should be deporting anymore,” he said, speaking at a forum organized by the German public broadcaster WDR.

A defense policy expert for Schulz’s SPD party, Rainer Arnold, agreed that deportations were “not responsible” at this moment.

“There is no place in that country where people can live safely,” he told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

Between December and March, Germany deported 92 Afghan nationals on several charter flights to Kabul.

aw, dj/rt (Reuters, dpa, AFP, KNA)



UNHCR defends NGO charity groups over migrant rescues in Mediterranean

The UNHCR has defended charity groups rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean as they come under criticism in Italy. It also reported on a dire situation for children in South Sudan.

Mittelmeer Gerettete Flüchtlinge (picture-alliance/abaca/I. Pastor)

The UN refugee agency has defended private aid groups rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean. Some of them have been accused in Italy of cooperating with smugglers in Libya.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Sunday there needed to be a greater effort to rescue a rising number of migrants using Libya as a springboard to reach Europe by boat.

“This is a matter of life or death which appeals to our most basic sense of humanity and should not be called into question,” Grandi said.  “The tireless efforts of the Italian Coast Guard, in coordination with Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, and of NGOs are truly remarkable.”

Italy’s ruling center-left Democratic Party and the European Commission have also defended the NGOs.

NGOs have rescued about one-third of the more than 43,000 migrants who have made the crossing so far this year. On Friday and Saturday alone, some 6,000 migrants were picked up at sea by NGOs, the Italian navy and Frontex reported.  More than 1,150 migrants have drowned so far this year.

Watch video05:04

Italy: Refugees welcome

Accusations of collusion

Italian Prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro has in recent weeks accused some private charity boats of colluding with Libyan traffickers, allegations that have been picked up by some politicians in Italy.

The EU border control agency Frontex in a February report described the NGOs as “unintentionally” acting like a “pull factor” for more crossings by saving migrants close to the Libyan coast. But Frontex says there is no evidence of collaboration between the smugglers and NGOs.

The NGOs, led by SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), have defended their actions and denied cooperating with Libyan smugglers. They say they are simply carrying out rescues that should be organized by European governments.

Zuccaro has said bigger charities like MSF and Save the Children were beyond reproach, but he accused smaller private NGO boats of cooperating with smugglers. He has presented no hard evidence to back up the claims, which have since been echoed by Italy’s populist Five Star Movement and right-wing Northern League.

Migrants from Africa fleeing war and poverty have created an opportunity for smugglers based in Libya.

War, famine and poverty

The UN said on Monday that war and famine have forced more than two million children in South Sudan to flee their homes.

Seven-month-old Gire is one of over a million children fleeing violence in South Sudan. Help is urgently needed 

Describing it as the most worrying refugee crisis in the world, Valentin Tapsoba, the UNHCR director in Africa, said, “No refugee crisis today worries me more than South Sudan.” He added: “That refugee children are becoming the defining face of this emergency is incredibly troubling.”

In the country of 12 million people, nearly 75 percent of children do not attend school, more than a million children have fled outside South Sudan and a further million are internally displaced.

cw/jm (AFP, dpa)



EU considering giving ships armed with machine guns to Libyan coastguard accused of killing migrants

Libyan government sends list of requested equipment including boats, helicopters and weapons

Libya is asking the EU for armed ships and helicopters to increase its refugee patrols in the Mediterranean Sea amid allegations of widespread abuse against migrants.

The German parliament said a “list” of wanted equipment, including diving suits, ambulances, communications equipment and night vision gear, was being considered by the European Commission.

EU states are already deploying submarines, ships and aircraft to assist in reconnaissance efforts, although they have been criticised for focusing on smuggling rather than rescue missions as a record number of refugees die at sea.

Libya’s latest request was revealed by a parliamentary question from the opposition Die Linke party, with broadcaster ARD reporting vessels equipped with machine guns were among a total of 130 boats of varying sizes and capacities called for.

They would be used by the Libyan coastguard, which stands accused of beating and shooting refugees while pushing back boats launched by smugglers into the Mediterranean Sea.

Regardless of the agency’s alleged abuses, including attacks on aid agencies’ rescue ships, Britain is among the countries supporting the coastguard with offshore training.

The first round has been completed and discussions are underway for a second batch, The Independent understands.

Desperate journeys: Rescued at sea, refugees detail abuse in Libya

European states backed an agreement struck by Italy to support the fragile Government of National Accord’s (GNA) ability to stem the crisis earlier this year, but the prospect of sending arms has raised alarm.

Isis and Islamist factions are among the countless groups waging a bloody battle for territory in the continuing civil war, where a Russia-backed warlord holds increasing sway.

As well as the threat of extremists gaining weapons and equipment donated by the EU, human rights groups have been outraged by the prospect of European support for Libya forcing migrants into detention centres where they report being raped and tortured in dire conditions.

Some are controlled by authorities affiliated with the GNA, while many are operated by smugglers who abduct migrants and force them into labour, prostitution or extort them for ransom in a lucrative industry.

The International Organisation for Migration revealed that hundreds of young African men are being traded in public in what they described as “slave markets” earlier this month.

“Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border,” said IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle.

“There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.”

The human trade has expanded rapidly amid the chaos following the Nato-backed removal of Muammar Gaddafi in the 2011 uprising and ensuing civil war.

Widespread lawlessness has allowed smugglers to thrive along Libya’s Mediterranean coastline, which is now the main launching point for refugee boats heading for Europe.

Almost 1,100 migrants have died on the treacherous route to Italy this year, with 44,000 rescued and taken to land, while 4,900 have crossed the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

That route has slowed to a trickle since the controversial EU-Turkey deal came into force last March, seeing all asylum seekers arriving on Greek islands detained under threat of deportation.

But the prospect of implementing a similar agreement with Libya looks slim given the government’s reduced capacity and human rights concerns raised by the UN.

A spokesperson for the GNA has not yet responded to The Independent’s request for details of the reported list of equipment requested from the EU.

Jalal Othman said authorities take all allegations of human rights abuses “very seriously”, after fresh evidence of abuse against migrants emerged earlier this year.

Migrants wait to receive aid distribution provided by the International Organization for Migration in Libya (AFP/Getty Images)

“The Libyan judicial and law-enforcement systems are facing extreme pressures at this time due to the very challenging security situation in the country,” he added.

“We condemn all mistreatment of migrants without reservation. While we have to be realistic about the state’s current law-enforcement capacity, action will be taken wherever possible against those who break the law.

“The Libyan Government of National Accord continues to work closely and productively with our European partners on illegal migration and people-smuggling.”

The refugee crisis shows no sign of slowing after the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers in Europe, as conflicts continue in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq alongside insurgencies and instability across sub-Saharan Africa.

EU nations granted refugee status or some other protection to more than 700,000 people last year the latest statistics show.

Eurostat said Germany granted asylum to the highest number of applicants, approving 445,000 claims, followed by Sweden, Italy and France.

Of those accepted across Europe, 405,600 were Syrians, 65,800 were Iraqis and 61,800 Afghans.

Lengthy waits continue for migrants stranded in Italy, where 176,000 people are living in reception centres, and Greece, where 62,000 asylum seekers have been trapped by the EU-Turkey deal and border closures through the Balkans

Opinion: Refugees – the new political currency

Politics is about finding a compromise, so it is no surprise that the issue of migration is increasingly defining discussions between Africa and Europe. But this approach is not without risks, writes Jens Borchers.

Spanien Marokko Ceuta Flüchtlinge überwinden Zaun (picture-alliance/dpa/Reduan)

It may sound cynical, but it has become an increasingly visible reality: Migration and fleeing conflict have become a political currency. The evidence of this could, most recently, be seen at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, which borders Morocco. Time and again, migrants on Moroccan soil have tried to scale the well-protected, six-meter-high fence. If they get over the fence, they have reached European territory. If they fail, then they have to wait, in miserable conditions, for their next opportunity. The intriguing question is what determines whether the fence can be scaled?

The Western Sahara and the rush on Ceuta

Moroccan security forces play an important role in answering that question. They usually keep a close eye on migrants in the north of the country. But if, in Morocco’s view, there are good political reasons, they may pay a bit less attention. And when they do, a few hundred migrants manage to reach Ceuta – and Europe.

Jens Borchers (HR/Eric Thevenet)Jens Borchers heads the ARD public broadcaster office in Rabat

One such political reason is the delicate issue of Western Sahara. Morocco peacefully occupied this region in 1975 and regards it as part of its territory. But the region’s status has not been resolved under international law, and this has repeatedly resulted in tensions. Most recently this has surfaced again because the European Court of Justice has refused to accept a trade agreement between the EU and Morocco. The reason behind this is that Morocco has included agricultural products from the Western Sahara as part of the agreement. The European Court of Justice found this to be illegal.

That angered the Moroccan government. At the beginning of February, Morocco’s agriculture minister said it seemed as if Europe did not value the enormous efforts made by the Kingdom of Morocco in protecting the European borders from illegal immigrants. His ministry recently warned in a statement that a new influx of migrants could be on its way towards Europe – if difficulties between Morocco and the European Union continue. A new, small influx of migrants was precisely what we then saw occur twice in Ceuta a few days ago. A third attempt was eventually stopped by Moroccan security forces.

Europe puts its values up for sale

This is how migration become a “political currency.” Germany and Europe are afraid of more immigration. It is only logical that countries that could prevent the steady flow of people to Europe would use this to further their own interests. Morocco is trying to do this, as is Turkey. Even the West African country Niger has long understood that its level of cooperation on migration matters can be used as a tool to gain political and financial capital. This principle behind this is: If I keep the migrants off your turf, you will comply with my political demands – be it money, concessions, or the label “safe country of origin.” And this is our, Europe’s, contribution to the fact that migration and migrants have become political currency.

This especially endangers our much quoted European values: The more we push aside, buy or negotiate ourselves out of the migration problem, the more hollow our constantly proclaimed values and standards of openness, equal opportunity and the inviolability of human rights become.




German states rebel against federal government over deportations

Angela Merkel’s government has promised to send rejected asylum seekers home, but some local states aren’t cooperating. Schleswig-Holstein, for example, has temporarily halted all deportations to Afghanistan.

Symbolbild Abschiebung Flüchtlinge (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Roessler)

Schleswig-Holstein will not be sending anyone back to Afghanistan for at least until May 31, the northern German state announced on Tuesday. Schleswig-Holstein’s Social Democrat (SPD) Interior Minister Stefan Studt said that the state government was taking the step for “humanitarian reasons” because deportees weren’t guaranteed “security and dignity” in Afghanistan. Some 700 Afghans with no right of residence currently reside in the northern German state.

Responsibility for deporting people whose applications for asylum have been rejected or have no right to reside in Germany rests with the country’s 16 federal states, and Schleswig-Holstein’s decision underscores the conflict between local and national authorities on the issue.

Earlier this month, conservative Chancellor Merkel told her Christian Democratic (CDU) colleagues at a party convention in the state that “We can’t simply say we’ll never again return anyone to Afghanistan.” But Schleswig-Holstein is saying precisely that, at least for the next three-and-a-half months.

Merkel hoped that she had found a solution to the issue last week in Berlin when she reached agreement with the leaders of the federal states to speed up deportations. But particularly those states that are led by Social Democratic-Green coalitions are resisting enforcing the chancellor’s promise to send more people back to their homelands.

The deportation issue is a contentious one in a year including a general election preceded by two important elections at the state level, and the situation at the moment appears to be a stalemate. So how can the impasse be broken, and who is likely to win out in the end?

Deutschland - Proteste in Köln und Düsseldorf gegen die Deportation nach Afghanistan (E. Hadid)Activists have protested across Germany against deportations to Afghanistan

Carrots and sticks

Merkel’s government, and in particular Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, isn’t happy about Schleswig-Holstein’s rebellion.

“Even before the hiatus was announced, the minister wrote to all the states, and Schleswig-Holstein in particular, and told them that he thought this was the wrong signal right now,” Interior Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate said on Wednesday in Berlin. “The fact is that individual states can declare hiatuses in the short term. But if the duration is longer, they need the Interior Ministry to agree.”

Others aren’t content to wait until the Schleswig-Holstein moratorium expires. A number of conservatives, including Gerda Hasselfeldt, a high-ranking parliamentarian from the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the CSU, have called for cuts in federal assistance to states that resist common deportation policies.

But experts say that sanctions are less likely than federal incentives to enhance cooperation.

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Ulrich Karpen, Professor Emeritus of Law and deportation expert, told Deutsche Welle. “I do think the federal government could give some states additional funds depending on the number of people with no resident rights they deport. That would create positive incentives. Better carrots than sticks.”

Infografik Deportations from Germany have risen sorted by German federal states ENGMore and more people are being deported from Germany

Other states of conflict

The issue is not just confined to Schleswig-Holstein. There have also been various degrees of reluctance or refusal to go along with the federal deportation plans in Berlin, Bremen, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia – other states led by the SPD and Greens. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for instance, local Green Party spokeswoman for refugee issues, Monika Düker, resigned in December in protest at the state’s deportation of people back to Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan is not a safe country,” Düker’s successor Verena Schäffer told DW. “So it would a strong signal if all the Social Democratic state interior ministers would declare a three-month deportation moratorium. It’s high time that de Maizière and (German Foreign Minister Sigmar) Gabriel reevaluate the security situation in Afghanistan and stop the deportations.”

Infografik Abschiebungen Deutschland ENG

The issue is particularly sensitive because 2017 sees not only the German national election in September, but also state elections in both Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia in May. So there’s a lot at stake in local deportation policies.

Public sentiment favors deportations, including to countries some consider dangerous. In an opinion survey published by Focus magazine last week, nearly three-quarters of those asked said they thought convicted criminals and those deemed a threat to Germany should be sent back to Afghanistan. Twenty percent said those with rejected asylum applications should be as well.

Karpen said such pressure could force the social Democrats and Greens to adjust their position.

“The public mood is such that they actually can’t afford to block deportations,” Karpen explained. “I think if push comes to shove, the federal government will cite the wishes of voters. I can imagine that there’ll be cooperation, for example, in North Rhine-Westphalia.”

North Rhine-Westphalia is particularly important because it is Germany’s most populous state, and the election there on May 14 could set the tone for the national ballot on September 24.

Thomas de Maizière Innenminister (picture-alliance/NurPhoto/E. Contini)De Maizière would like to see a bigger federal role in deporting rejected asylum seekers

A tug-of-war for authority

Ultimately, de Maiziére and other conservative leaders in the national government would like to bring more central authority to bear on deportations. That could include the establishment of federal “departure centers” so that illegal aliens could be sent back to their countries of origin more quickly.

But even if the states do ultimately cooperate with federal authorities, they are unlikely to voluntarily cede one of their main powers.

“That would mean that the states would give up one of their assets, the authority over police coercion,” Karpen explained. “That’s hard to imagine.”

Instead Karpen expects a federal-local compromise, in which states accept nominally logistical federal “help” while officially retaining the authority to carry out deportations. Still, the fundamental conflict is unlikely to disappear completely.

“I think it would be better for the federal government to carry out deportations,” Karpen said. “Our residency law is a national one – with good reason. I think the government’s suggestion isn’t bad. But federal police won’t carry our deportations. There will be a national coordination point. Again, it’s a question of carrots and sticks.”