The North African nations of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria along with the former Soviet republic of Georgia should be safe countries of origin, the German government proposed last week.
The bill is the initiative of German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, part of his “Migration Masterplan.”
So-called “safe countries of origin” currently include all EU members, six Balkans nations, Ghana and Senegal.
Seehofer argues adding four new countries to the safe list would lead to speedier decisions – and deportations – for asylum applicants from those nations, the majority of whom have no right to asylum in Germany.
He also hopes to signal to people currently living in North Africa and Georgia that it would be pointless to travel to Germany to seek asylum.
Germany received 8700 asylum applications from those four countries in 2017, according to DPA, though the total number of arrivals could be higher.
This is the second time the German government has tried to extend the list of safe countries to include North African states, otherwise known as the Maghreb countries.
Why were previous proposals blocked from passage?
Last year a similar proposal was blocked from passing through the Bundesrat, the German upper house of parliament, by the Green party.
The party – long proponents of a humanitarian approach to asylum policy – disagrees that the countries in question are entirely “safe,” not least because in the Maghreb countries homosexuality is punishable by law.
“It’s still the case that in the Maghreb states journalists, minorities and homosexuals aren’t safe from persecution and internment,” said Green party head Robert Habeck, pointing to reports of torture and unfair legal proceedings. “That’s why I don’t see these states as safe.”
The Green party are in power in nine out of Germany’s 16 states. If all of those states vote against or abstain from the vote in the upper house, the bill can’t pass. Some of those states have already indicated they would abstain, others that they would decide nearer to the vote.
The Green’s Winfried Kretschmann, Baden-Württemberg’s centre right leaning Minister President, has come under fire from his own party for indicating his state will support the bill.
Why are politicians supporting the bill?
Proponents of the bill, including many of Seehofer’s colleagues from the Bavarian Christian Socialists (CSU), argue that none of the four states are at war or engage in systematic torture of their citizens.
That means that very few asylum-seekers from these countries are currently given refugee status: 4.3 percent of applicants from Algeria, 4.4 percent from Morocco, 2.1 percent from Georgia, and just 0.7 percent from Tunisia, according to DPA.
But at the moment, deporting failed asylum seekers back to these countries can still be difficult, especially if there’s a risk, however small, of the deportee facing torture or the death penalty.
In some cases, as in the botched deportation of Sami A., Osama bin Laden’s alleged former bodyguard, to Tunisia last week, German courts think that risk is too big.
Appealing his deportation order, Sami A. successfully argued that he was under threat of torture if he were to be returned to Tunisia. That should have prevented him being sent back, but somehow he was put on a plane anyway. Germany's federal office for refugees and migration says the did not receive the message from an administrative court – in which A. had made an appeal – in time to halt A.'s deportation.
Critics of the proposal worry Tunisia and the others being included on the list of “safe countries” may influence similar court decisions in the future and prevent each case being decided on its own merits.
Less controversial is the addition of the former Soviet republic of Georgia to the list. Human rights have been steadily improving in the country and the EU recently dropped visa requirements for Georgians.