The German government introduces a set of measures to deter arrivals including fixed borders with Poland, Czech Republic and Switzerland and drafting proposal to ease deportations amid an increase of asylum applications, a lack of capacity in the reception system and far-right gains in recent elections.

The German government is reportedly set to impose fixed border checks on the Polish, Czech Republic and Swiss borders. ECRE member, Pro Asyl warns over problematic deportation measures rushed through the hearing process by the government. The proposal comes amid a combination of reception capacity gaps, far-right election gains in Bavaria and Hesse and a growing public dissatisfaction with current policies. The German government has proposed a “draft act to improve returns” aiming to ease deportations of rejected asylum-seekers in addition to other measures. “What is very important is that everyone recognize that there is no one single measure that will help us at the moment to reduce illegal migration, but a package of measures,” interior minister Nancy Faeser said. According to ECRE member Pro Asyl, the deadline of two days to comment is insufficient given the complexity of the proposal. Short of time for a thorough critical analysis, Pro Asyl points to some main areas of concern including expanded and disproportionate criminalization even over minor offences and raising the maximum length of so-called Custody Pending Departure (Ausreisegewahrsam) from 10 to 28 days. Until now, people were allowed to be detained for a maximum of ten days, and only near the border, Pro Asyl explained while underlining that this de-facto detention is to be made possible for up to 28 days and in any suitable facility in the federal territory. Further, the organisation warned of expanded access to search residences for documentation by officials to establish a person’s identity; increase in night-time and raid like deportations including of families with children; increased access to personal data without proportionality test; and expansion of criteria for rejections of asylum applications as unfounded.

In addition to concerns over the proposal’s potential incompatibility with European and international law, Pro Asyl recently appealed to all politicians to not participate in the reproduction of far-right narratives. The organisation described the German asylum debate as defined by politicians focusing on deterrence and prevention of arrivals, which is even referenced in the Germany Pact (Der Deutschland-Pakt) a broad political plan published by Chancellor, Olaf Scholz (SPD) in early September that includes one section aimed to limit irregular migration through increased repartition and cooperation with third countries. The Chancellor has stated that: “The number of refugees trying to get to Germany is too high at the moment,” suggesting that more than 70% of all arrivals had not been registered prior to entering Germany “even though almost all of them have been in another EU country”. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier took it one step further telling media: “We need a limit on the number of arrivals, there is no question about that,” and suggested the need for stricter border controls. On 29 September, German Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser (SPD) announced a joint tas kforce with Poland and the Czech Republic to crack down on “inhumane smuggling crime” and “illegal” immigration. Reportedly, Germany is expected to notify the EU of plans to implement fixed border checks on the Polish, Czech Republic and Swiss borders. Previously, this had only been possible at the Austrian border.

These strict measures and hardening rhetoric from the government and even from its Green and Liberal coalition partners come amid an increase in asylum applications, a lack of capacity in the reception system, far-right gains in recent elections and reportedly a growing dissatisfaction with current asylum policies in the population. The far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD) made significant gains in recent elections in Bavaria and Hesse and according to surveys could take 20 per cent of the vote in a national election. According to official data, first-time asylum applications are up 78 per cent in the first seven months of 2023. Reportedly, more than 220,000 people applied for asylum in Germany between January and August of 2023 — the majority from Syria, Afghanistan and Turkey.  Many municipalities responsible for the reception of refugees are stretched on capacity due to lack of suitable housing and funding. “After two years of the (coronavirus) crisis, then the Ukraine war with its increasing prices for basically everything — heating, gas, also food — it’s sometimes pretty tough to convince people that they have to share places and capacities with people who just arrived,” said Sascha Langenbach, the spokesperson for the state office for refugee affairs in Berlin – a city that had seen more than 12,000 asylum seekers in 2023 as of end September. Meanwhile, the “Independent Complaints Office” for refugees in Berlin established in 2021 has so far processed 3,500 complaints by refugees, almost half of them in 2023 alone. Head of the agency, Maike Caiulo-Prahm, stated: “A high number of refugees means tensions in our accommodation facilities grow. The social and political climates are very tense, too. In addition, 95% of our employees have a migration background themselves and are greatly affected by the situation”. Advisor Oguz B. added: “People now have less space, I noticed that. Staff members working in the accommodation facilities and in refugee relief say they’re considerably overworked. And each day, one hears and reads in the media that eventually something has to change. But nothing changes”. Further, Bozkurt defined proposed deportation measures by the government as ” token politics which helps no-one”. In early October, a reception center in the eastern German city of Suhl stopped accepting new arrivals.  The facility has an official capacity of 1,400 people, but according to local officials can only provide adequate care for 800 people but accommodated some 1,600. New arrivals are redirected to the nearby localities of Eisenberg and Hermsdorf.

Seven people including a child died in a car crash in Bavaria of a van carrying 23 people but designed to fit only nine. Police has arrested the driver of the van on charges of human smuggling and causing death through dangerous driving.

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