Germany: Refugees face harassment, campaigners resist deportations

December 8, 2012

Refugees coming to Germany right now are largely from known regions of crisis. They come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, many African countries and the Turkish-ruled part of Kurdistan.

They also include many Roma who want to escape extreme poverty and racial discrimination in Kosovo and other East European countries.

The first problem for refugees is to reach Germany at all. Under European Union asylum rules, asylum claims must be processed in the country that the fugitive first entered. For refugees who arrive by land, it is impossible for Germany to be the first EU country they enter.

Therefore if a refugee can be shown to have previously been in another EU country (for example if they had been picked up by police and their fingerprints taken, which are stored in an EU-wide computer system) they will be returned to that country.

Furthermore, with more and more re-admission agreements concluded with countries bordering the EU, there is often a chain of deportations with the risk the asylum seeker ends up back in the country they fled.

“Fortress Europe” is not only strengthening the EU’s external borders, but also those within the EU. The hunt for illegal immigrants leads to refugees and other foreign-looking people in Germany being permanently exposed to racist police controls on trains coming from abroad, at railway stations and in downtown areas. People crossing internal EU borders are racially profiled.

When a refugee’s asylum claim is being processed in Germany, they can expect further restrictions. A number of special laws have been created, which apply only to refugees.

Asylum seekers are assigned by a quota system to a particular state and district. Other than parents with under-age children, kinship is not taken into consideration.

This leads, for example, to older children not being allowed to join their parents in the city and having to live alone in a camp in the country.

During their asylum claim processing, refugees must live in so-called collective accommodation. These are mostly dilapidated buildings or barracks, which are isolated in the suburbs or countryside, far away from public transport.

People cannot even stay in one place, but are constantly reallocated by the authorities to different camps.

Refugees are not allowed to leave the district to which they have been assigned. Doing so is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to one year.

Welfare entitlements are defined by the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act, which usually means payment in kind or in the form of vouchers. The introduction of this law in 1993 was the first time a group of people were removed from the existing social welfare system. The benefits are well below what needy Germans receive, which is itself below the official poverty line.

In July, the Constitutional Court declared this law in its current form unconstitutional. Entitlements must now be based on those of other people in Germany.

“Deportation Class – against the business of deportation” is a campaign launched by asylum seeker-rights group No One Is Illegal in 2000. The campaign aims to pressure passengers and crew to intervene when airlines are paid to carry forcibly-removed people.

Imaginative actions are staged at airports, in travel agencies, online and at airline shareholders’ meetings.

For example, leaflets were circulated at airports and travel agencies with the label of the airline Lufthansa, featuring preppy stewardesses advertising a special offer for the newly created “deportation class”. This led to numerous calls from tourists wanted to book this “special offer”.

The campaign had an effect. The pilots’ union, Cockpit, called on its members not to transport “passengers not willing to travel”.

Deportations have repeatedly been prevented by passengers refusing to sit down on the plane. For example, in July last year the deportation of Abdilahi Mohamed with Air Malta was prevented at the last minute by protests.

In May 2010, a Syrian asylum seeker was to be deported from Frankfurt to Damascus on a Czech Airlines flight via Vienna. Activists succeeded in stopping the deportation of the young man shortly before take-off through phone calls and faxes to Czech Airlines.

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