29 January 2016

Similar to what happened with the Western Balkan countries in 2014 and 2015, the coalition in Germany is discussing the possibility to declare Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia “safe countries of origin” in order to facilitate the rejection of asylum claims made by their nationals.

If this plan were to be approved by the Bundesrat, the Federal Council, Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian asylum seekers would not be placed in reception centres at state level, and would be placed in federal level initial reception centres where their Refugee Status Determination interview would take place. During their stay in those centres, asylum seekers have no access to the labour market.

Determining whether a country is “safe” is a delicate issue. According to the recast Asylum Procedures Directive, “a country is considered as a safe country of origin where, on the basis of the legal situation, the application of the law within a democratic system and the general political circumstances, it can be shown that there is generally and consistently no persecution as defined in no torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and no threat by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict.”

As claimed by some organisations, human rights in North African countries are far from being fully respected. Protesters, activists and reporters are persecuted, arbitrarily arrested and in some cases tortured. Karl Kopp, director of European affairs at German organisation Pro-Asyl said, that “Germany has long been welcoming Moroccan and Algerian communities of economic migrants. Undoubtedly many people coming to Europe are following the same track. However, in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia human rights and civil liberties are not to be taken for granted and inequality and corruption create a hostile environment where protesters and activists are too often silenced with prison. Refugee Status Determination must be carried out regularly in order to accord them the right to asylum to those who deserve it”.

This seems to be somewhat echoed in recent recognition rates in Germany. According to Eurostat, while in 2014 only 1.2% of Algerians and 1.8% of Moroccans were granted protection in Germany, in 2015 the rates rose to 5% and 7.3% respectively.

According to the German Interior Ministry, in the final months of 2015 the number of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian asylum seekers rose from a few hundreds to a few thousand, while the Cologne New Year events exacerbated the debate concerning the alleged connection between the arrival of asylum seekers and criminality.

Germany has requested cooperation from Morocco and Algeria in taking back their rejected nationals and Morocco has so far agreed on taking back irregular migrants and rejected asylum seekers. Germany signed a readmission agreement with Algeria on 14 February 1997, which entered into force on 12 May 2006. Even though it has been used since 1 November 1999, its application is not always regular. The majority of the alleged Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian citizens are lacking identity documents, which makes it hard to put into place the agreement, as they cannot be identified.

The German coalition is also envisaging measures to discourage family reunification by lengthening the waiting period for recognized refugees to be joined by family members to 2 years.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 29 January 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.