Germany’s government seeks to reform the country’s asylum policy. Chancellor Scholz talks about deportations ‘en masse’. However, the new bill spectacularly fails to deliver even by the government’s own estimations—but this may just be enough for Germany’s left.
The German government has accepted a planned tightening of the asylum law, which, if approved by the Bundestag, could soon make it easier to deport rejected asylum seekers from Germany, German newspapers reported on Wednesday.
So, is this the end of Merkel’s Willkommenskultur?
Is the German government waking up, as many on the European right have been predicting—and demanding—in recent years?
The fact that Germany is facing a desperate migration problem should not come as a surprise to anyone. The issue is deeply politicised, but—as is typical of most public debates in Germany—a calm examination of the problem is also made extremely difficult by general moralising. The mainstream media have echoed with great conviction the dominant position of the left-wing political and cultural elite for the past decade or so: Germany has a moral obligation to welcome anyone fleeing war or political persecution, and that anyone who questions this is not only cruel but is certainly a far-right conspiracy theorist, and possibly even a Nazi. (Notably, the left-leaning Süddeutsche Zeitung even fantasized about a firing order on Hungary’s southern border in 2015, as a mass influx of migrants caused a massive political crisis in that country and in Europe.)
The large wave of migrants that started in 2015 has put a huge strain on German bureaucracy, with nearly 1.5 million asylum applications filed in the country in 2015 and 2016. This is an unprecedented number, but at best only a guide to the actual number of migrants who have arrived in the country, as many have arrived undocumented and others have not applied for asylum.
The number of asylum applications in Germany has been increasing steadily since 2020.
This year, more than 60,000 more asylum applications have been lodged than in 2014,
the last year before the big migration wave. This has only partly to do with the war in Ukraine: Germany remains a popular destination for migrants from the Middle East and Africa.
From an administrative point of view, one of the biggest problems is that the management of immigration cases is partly the responsibility of the individual provinces, but not all of them receive the same number of migrants and, due to differences in their financial possibilities, it can take months for individual asylum applications to be processed in some of them.
However, what both the German population and the authorities have also had to face in recent years is the practical difficulties of removing migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected.
In 2022, managed to deport just under 13,000 rejected asylum seekers,
which is negligible in relation to the number of applications submitted.
Of course, not everyone regrets this so much. The Greens in the federal governing coalition are known for taking a very permissive stance on migration, but organizations defending migrants’ interests, such as Pro Asyl, also tend to interpret any attempt to deport unwanted migrants as a frontal attack on the fundamental human right to asylum.
But if there is so much opposition within the government, why has the minister of interior, Nancy Faeser, a Social Democrat known for her tolerance of the far left, decided to prepare the necessary legislative changes to reform the deportations?
In addition to the administrative difficulties outlined above, it is undeniable that in Germany, as in many other Western European countries, immigrants are causing more and more problems. The year 2023 got off to a chaotic start in Berlin and in several other German cities, with small-scale riots breaking out in immigrant neighbourhoods with rioters throwing firecrackers at ambulances. At the time, this was explained by the ‘macho cult’ in the official communication, but this proved unconvincing. Meanwhile, anti-Semitically motivated violent crime has been on the rise across the country for years, which criminal authorities tend to link to the far right, although it often has more to do with anti-Jewish Muslim immigrants than German neo-Nazis.
Many governments in Western European countries have faced similar problems in recent years, changing the tide on migration at EU level. In June, interior ministers of member states agreed on a reform of the EU asylum system, which—although not yet approved by the European Parliament—foresees significant tightening, especially for migrants who have no realistic chance of being granted asylum.
At the Luxembourg summit, Minister Faeser also argued that, in addition to the restrictions, there should also be a clear definition of the groups that are not covered, such as families. This is unusual because, according to BAMF figures, the vast majority of asylum seekers are male: for example, only 14.1 per cent of applications in the 18–25 age group are from women. Male asylum seekers are in the majority of all cohorts, except for the over 65 years of age one. In an interview with Der Spiegel, German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz said that the new deportation rules will bring real change to the German asylum system as part of a comprehensive package of measures. ‘We will finally have to expel en masse those who have no right to stay in Germany’, he told the Hamburg newspaper.
But will this really happen? Well,
those expecting a turnaround on migration from the current German government are likely to be disappointed
in the coming months. Even if the Bundestag votes in favour of the amendment, deportations are not expected to increase significantly in Germany—as the Ministry of Interior itself admits in the draft bill: ‘It is assumed that by tightening the departure obligation, the number of deportations will rise by about 600 (5 per cent).’
This is certainly not the ‘en masse deportation’ Scholz spoke of in the Spiegel interview, but it may be just enough for the traditionally tolerant left in Germany. Whether this reform will deliver some relief to Germany’s overtaxed asylum system remains to be seen, however, the gloomy estimations of Faeser’s ministry and the government’s obvious reluctance to counter this pressing issue gives no cause for optimism right now.