The refugees arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean want to enter the European Union, but most of them do not want to stay in Italy. The right-wing government in Rome makes little effort to stop them: Most migrants can continue northwards without registering. In response to a dramatic increase in refugee numbers, France has announced it will increase its police presence along the French-Italian border. Germany is carrying out random checks at its southern border with Austria, but Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has rejected tightening border controls.
Under current EU asylum law, application procedures must be filed in the state where the asylum-seeker first sets foot on EU soil. Those who move on to another member state without permission can be returned to the state where they first entered the bloc. This year, Italy has refused to comply with this regulation, and in return Germany now refuses to take in refugees under the voluntary admissions agreed within the EU.
According to the European Asylum Agency, one-third of all asylum applications filed in the EU, Norway and Switzerland are filed in Germany. Local councils have been sounding the alarm, saying they cannot provide enough housing and integration for everyone.
According to the Federal Interior Ministry, around 1.1 million Ukrainian war refugees were registered in Germany up to August 2023. In addition, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has received over 200,000 asylum applications from other countries this year. That is 77% more than in the same period last year. Some 70% of the applicants are male.
Those who make it to Germany are usually allowed to stay
Only a small proportion of people are actually granted asylum on the grounds of political persecution, but there are other forms of protection that permit them the right to stay. At the end of June 2023, around 44,500 recognized asylum-seekers were living in Germany, most of them from Turkey, Syria and Iran. At the same time, there were around 755,000 people with refugee status under the Geneva Convention, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Almost 280,000 foreigners were classified as obliged to leave the country. Of these, about half are rejected asylum-seekers. However, most have "temporary toleration" (Duldung), meaning they have been asked to leave the country but cannot be deported "for material or legal reasons." Such reasons are threats to life and safety, for example, because war is raging in their home country or because they have health issues that cannot be treated in their country of origin.
There are 95,000 foreigners in Germany whose citizenship cannot be determined, so there is nowhere they can legally be deported to.
At the end of June, 54,330 people were registered as "immediately obliged to leave the country" — i.e. they can be deported. The federal government had set out to launch a "repatriation offensive" when it took office in late 2021. But in 2022, fewer than 13,000 people were deported; and in the first half of 2023, the figure was a mere 7,861.
Germany's long border
Since deportations are difficult to carry out, politicians are now calling for a turnaround in migration policy and to limit immigration more efficiently. Such demands have also come from the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), the smallest party in the federal coalition government. "We must finally stop illegal migration, control immigration," party general secretary Bijan Djir-Sarai told the tabloid BILD. "Otherwise, we'll overburden our schools and the welfare state, which will also lead hundreds of thousands of migrants into a dead-end street without prospects for education and good jobs."
But how could the number of entries be curtailed? Germany borders on eight EU states and Switzerland, and the length of the borders totals just under 3,900 kilometers (2,400 miles). However, the borders are "of course" controlled, "and very strongly and in all directions," Interior Minister Faeser told the national Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper recently.
Germany is currently very successful in detecting and stopping unauthorized entries, she said, partly because of the good cooperation with police and authorities in some neighboring countries: "That is certainly more successful than to establish a few controls on roads across the border." Faeser believes that migration regulation can only be achieved at the European level.
More reasons for flight and asylum
For years, little progress has been made on the issue of equal distribution of refugees within the EU. A breakthrough was celebrated in June 2023 when EU interior ministers agreed to reform the asylum system and introduce fast-track procedures at the EU's external borders for migrants with little prospect of being allowed to stay. But implementation is likely to take years.
The biggest hurdle to limiting migration lies in the asylum seekers' countries of origin: With a civil war raging in Syria, and the Taliban's repressive rule in Afghanistan, anyone who makes it from there to Europe cannot be sent back for the foreseeable future.
Right-wing politicians claim that many migrants only come to Germany specifically to live on state welfare, which is higher than in many other European countries.
In Germany, everyone receives support, even if their applications for asylum or residence have been rejected and they are obliged to leave the country. The state of Bavaria now wants to change that. State Premier Markus Söder from the center-right Christian Social Union (CSU), has taken up the issue as he runs for re-election in October. He announced that rejected asylum-seekers in Bavaria would no longer receive money, only food and clothing. Söder is also calling for a fundamental reduction in financial support for refugees.
This article was originally written in German.
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