Germany looks to cut number of asylum seekers from Maghreb countries

Maghreb countries would be added to the list of “safe countries,” which includes all EU members, six Balkan countries, Ghana and Senegal.
Thursday 19/07/2018
Policemen stand in front of a cafe in the so-called Maghreb-district of Duesseldorf, western Germany, during a raid on January 16, 2016. (AFP)
Policemen stand in front of a cafe in the so-called Maghreb-district of Duesseldorf, western Germany, during a raid on January 16, 2016. (AFP)

LONDON -The German government has renewed attempts to make it more difficult for asylum seekers from Maghreb countries to seek refuge in Germany with legislation that would label Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as “safe countries of origin.”

The bill stalled last year in the upper house of Germany’s parliament after the Green Party, which advocates a liberal approach towards people seeking safe haven, stopped it.

However, the mood in Germany has significantly shifted regarding migration, with hard-line Interior Minister Horst Seehofer forcing Chancellor Angela Merkel to take a stronger approach towards asylum claims.

Seehofer, who heads the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, a coalition partner of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, is championing the bill to tackle migration and asylum.

If enacted, the change in the law would make it easier for Germany to reject asylum applications from people from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and deport them to their countries of origin.

“This means that people from these safe countries cannot call upon a right to asylum (in Germany)," Seehofer said.

He said the legislation was an “important contribution” to Germany’s attempts to balance its humanitarian concern with a desire for “order,” local media reported.

“Filing hopeless applications for political asylum should not be a way of getting around the normal paths of immigration to our labour market,” Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said last year when the bill was first introduced. “As a rule, someone from Tunisia, Algeria or Morocco has no right to asylum but we want only those people to stay in Germany who are truly persecuted.”

However Green party co-leader Robert Habeck said his party had not changed its position on adding the three Maghreb countries to the safe list.

“If it’s about returning people from the Maghreb states, you need functioning return agreements. If it’s about fighting criminality in Germany, you need a well-equipped police force,” Habeck said.

He said journalists, minorities and homosexuals were not safe from persecution in Maghreb states, and, therefore, his party could not agree to adding the three Maghreb countries to the “safe countries” list.

Because Germany’s 16 states, not the federal government, are responsible for deportations, the bill must pass both the upper and lower chambers of parliament. While the governing coalition has a majority in the lower chamber, it is in a minority in the upper chamber.

“No one has the majority. We need the votes of two states with Greens in the government,” Seehofer acknowledged.

Speaking in 2016, Bernd Mesovic, deputy chairman of the refugee protection organisation Pro Asyl, said that the pressure to add Maghreb countries to the “safe countries” list was motivated largely by political factors, particularly following high-profile incidents such as the numerous reports of sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve 2015 by people believed to be migrants and asylum seekers from the Maghreb. However, he added, that this was largely a symbolic move that would not, in practice, speed up asylum processes.

"The asylum seekers from the Maghreb countries are now the group with whom they want to show that toughness is appropriate," he said. "Even though the category of safe country is not really necessary, you could turn those people away individually, too."

The 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees states that asylum seekers must prove that they face “fear of persecution” over race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political views.

The “safe countries” list includes all EU members, six Balkan countries, Ghana and Senegal.