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29/09/2016

Berlin steps up efforts to expand its ‘safe list’

Global Europe

Berlin steps up efforts to expand its ‘safe list’

Thomas de Maizière recently acknowledged the Maghreb countries' shortcomings in human rights, yet is still pushing for their inclusion on the list.

[Heinrich Böll Stiftung/Flickr]

Critics have denounced Germany’s intention to put Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on a list of safe countries of origin in an attempt to reduce the number of asylum seekers coming from those countries. EurActiv Germany reports.

A simple kiss between two men in front of a historic mosque in Morocco’s capital of Rabat is enough to land the “guilty” parties a prison sentence of up to three years, due to the country’s discriminatory attitude towards LGBT persons. The same is true in Algeria and Tunisia.

As homosexuality is illegal in those countries, people facing persecution by such laws are entitled to asylum under paragraph 29a of the German asylum law and article 16a of its constitution, under which people should not be treated inhumanely or face demeaning punishment.

German Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière, the driving force of the plan, even acknowledged recently that there are “shortcomings in terms of human rights” in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, the so-called Maghreb nations.

Just how safe is the EU ‘safe list’?

The inclusion of countries that persecute homosexuals on the “safe list” has led the German Greens to ask for infringement proceedings to be launched. EurActiv’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

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Nevertheless, Berlin is still keen to add those countries to the “safe list”, which already includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal and Serbia. A draft law to that effect was presented yesterday (25 April) to the Bundestag’s committee on internal affairs.

In the Federal Council, the Bundesrat, concerns remain about the government’s plan, especially from the Greens’ perspective. The government reacted by admitting that homosexuality is indeed criminalised in the Maghreb countries, but that there is little evidence of systematic persecution.

Human rights organisations have criticised the proposal and highlighted that not all refugees from those countries should be tarred with the same brush, as many would still be eligible for asylum. “It contradicts the basic principle of the asylum procedure,” the head of Pro Asyl, Günter Burkhardt, said.

The plan also has political opposition. Green MP Luise Amtsberg criticised de Maizière for giving the Maghreb countries a “blank cheque to violate human rights”. Die Linke MP Ulla Jelpke said that “homosexuals are persecuted and women’s rights only exist on paper” in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

However, Daniel Thym, an asylum expert at the University of Konstanz, urged caution and highlighted that “safe country of origin status does not meet automatic deportation for refugees. Each case will still be assessed on an individual basis.”

By adding the three countries to the safe list, Berlin hopes to speed up the asylum process and reduce or even remove the incentive for people to come to Germany in the first place. De Maizière cited the example of the Balkan states, which have been on the list since 2014, and from where there have been constantly declining numbers of refugees.

Development experts rile against threats to cut aid

Development experts and opposition politicians have criticised German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel’s threat to cut aid to North African states if they are not more cooperative in tackling the refugee crisis. EurActiv Germany reports.

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Ursula Gräfin Praschma of the Federal Agency of Migration and Refugees (BAMF) agreed that the measure has been paying dividends. Yesterday, she stated that the number of people coming from the Maghreb countries had already started to fall. In January, 3,356 people were registered; in February it was only 599; and in March it fell even further to 480. BAMF stated that the mere discussion about the introduction of a new law has already served to reduce the number of people making their way to Germany.