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European politicians must stop exploiting migrant crisis: Rights activists

September 29, 2023 at 3:43 pm

Residents sit on the lawn in the courtyard between housing blocks at Brandenburg’s Central Immigration Authority (ZABH) center, housing some 1400 asylum seekers in Eisenhuttenstadt, eastern Germany, on September 28, 2023. [Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images]

Germany’s new measures to reduce irregular migration have prompted sharp criticism from refugees and human rights activists.

The government has introduced temporary border checks this week at crossings with Poland and the Czech Republic, stopped the voluntary intake of refugees arriving from Italy and announced plans to tighten deportation laws, making it possible to imprison people accused of illegally entering the country.

Human rights activist, Sonkeng Tegouffo, pointed out that Germany’s Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser, announced all these controversial plans ahead of next week’s key regional elections.

“She proposed to make the deportation laws harsher. And it is a strategy to disturb the opinion, to make the issue of migration like the main problem of Germany,” he told Anadolu, stressing that politicians are trying to exploit public concern over migration.

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Tegouffo, an expert from the Refugee Council of Brandenburg, said the government’s draft for new deportation rules, which aims for a tougher stance on migration, includes measures which would lead to serious human rights violations.

“The police can catch the refugee, control his telephone to collect information, and do this in a country where the privacy laws on the personal data are so important. But when you are a migrant, you don’t have any rights. That’s the idea, that is a racist approach,” he said.

Migration front and centre in elections

Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser, is running as the Social Democrat Party’s top candidate in regional elections in the central state of Hesse next week.

Migration has become one of the most contentious issues of the election campaign, as the number of irregular migrants entering the country surged in the past couple of months.

Tegouffo said most of the refugees fled war and persecution in their countries, and they would like to become part of German society and contribute to the country.

However, he said, the problem of racism and the exploitation of the migration issue by politicians have become major obstacles for their successful integration.

“On the one side, you have the politicians who have this racist view on migrants. On the other side, you have an economy that needs people to work. And these two are not compatible. And we say, you have to stop instrumentalising migrants for electoral issues,” he said.

Far-right gaining ground

Ahead of regional elections in the states of Hesse and Bavaria on 8 October,  the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is polling at a record-high 23 per cent, according to a new nationwide YouGov survey.

The party has long been calling on the government to take harsher measures against irregular immigration, pressing for rapidly deporting all foreigners whose asylum applications are declined.

Abdul-Kader Issaka, who arrived in Germany as a refugee eight years ago, expressed regret over the current political debate in the country, emphasizing that this is not appropriate for a country that portrays itself as a defender of democracy and human rights worldwide.

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“For me, no one is illegal. Everybody should be free, everywhere they are. I’ve heard that Germany stopped receiving migrants (from Italy). I think this is something against human rights,” he told Anadolu.

“Germany is big on human rights. As a country defending human rights, this is not how it’s supposed to be. Germany has to welcome everybody, irrespective of where you are from or who you are. You have to be received as a human,” he said.

The German government has rejected the criticism, arguing that its recent measures are aimed at combating immigrant smuggling on the borders.

Berlin is also calling on other EU members to develop a common European asylum policy, and ensure fair burden-sharing between the countries.

Tensions between Germany and Italy

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, remains a top destination for irregular migrants and asylum seekers arriving in EU countries.

Local media reported, last week, that Berlin has temporarily stopped the voluntary intake of refugees from Italy, due to recent political tensions and disagreements between the two countries.

According to the EU’s Dublin agreement, asylum seekers should apply for a refugee status in the first European country they enter. While most of the refugees enter Europe via Italy or Greece, many of them are travelling to Germany, where they have more opportunities.

Around 205,000 migrants applied for asylum in Germany between January and August this year, marking an increase of 77 per cent compared with the same period last year.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz is under growing pressure at home due to the surge in refugee numbers, as local authorities complain they are facing a crisis in providing accommodation and social support to newly arrived asylum seekers.

‘That is hypocrisy’

Kangni Coco Locoh, who works for a pro-refugee organisation in Berlin, said Germany’s harsh measures to limit refugee numbers are unacceptable.

He said Berlin should act in accordance with its international legal obligations and respect the UN’s Geneva Refugee Convention.

READ: Poland will uphold its veto on EU migration pact

“That is hypocrisy. For me, it’s hypocrisy. Because when you stand for something, you have to do it to the end,” he told Anadolu.

“You cannot say now we don’t like this, we won’t do this, we won’t do that. Before signing the contract, before signing these conventions, they must know that they have to stand for this, so I say it’s hypocrisy.”

Locoh, who is himself a political refugee from Togo, said thousands of asylum seekers in Germany have to wait for many years for their applications to be processed.

Today, many live with the fear of being deported to their country of origin, where they would face political persecution or prosecution, or inhuman treatment, he said.

“There are people who are here for 10 years, 20 years, and they don’t have work permits. How can they survive?” he asked.

“As a human being, we have to try to help each other. But this way of trying to deport people, I think this is criminal,” he said.

Currently, an estimated 280,000 foreign nationals are staying in Germany without a valid residence permit and they are obliged to leave the country.

Nearly 80 per cent of them were allowed to stay, so far, because authorities could not deport them due to factual or legal reasons.

The number of migrants who could be deported immediately is around 54,000, according to official figures.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.