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.
SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel fired the first shot on Monday (18 January), saying “It’s not fair that these countries take the money but not their own people.”
Gabriel put particular pressure on North African countries like Algeria and Morocco, telling German broadcasters that they readmit citizens that “have no right to asylum with us”.
Support came promptly from Manfred Weber, an MEP with the European People’s Party, who said that “the EU must put its own interests first in terms of using development aid”.
Weber added that “it is clear that, in the future, aid should only be distributed if they cooperate with refugee policy, i.e. re-admittance of rejected asylum seekers by their homelands”.
Where is Steinmeier?
Development experts moved to oppose the idea. “Development aid improves living conditions and therefore reduces the chances of people needing to flee their homes. If we reduce these measures, the situation will only get worse,” Uwe Kekeritz of the Greens warned, when talking to EURACTIV Germany.
“Mr Gabriel and Mr Weber don’t know what they’re talking about on this issue.”
Kekeritz also warned about the potential impact such statements could have on the governments of countries such as Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, adding that he found it “incomprehensible” that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had not yet intervened.
Foreign policy damage
Similar warnings also came from the German Institute for Development (DIE). Morocco-expert Annabelle Houdret told EURACTIV Germany that Gabriel’s quest for domestic approval could “damage foreign policy”.
Development NGO Oxfam criticised Gabriel’s manoeuvring and “completely irresponsible”. Berlin had committed itself willingly to contribute aid and to make it a priority issue, Oxfam expert Robert Lindner also told EURACTIV Germany.
Asylum seekers from the so-called Maghreb countries are a growing group in Germany. In June of last year, the Interior Ministry recorded 847 refugees from Algeria and 368 from Morocco. By December, the number of Algerians had tripled, and the number of Moroccons had increased eightfold.
Current events, like the Cologne attacks on New Year’s Eve, some of the suspects of which hail from North African countries, have soured public opinion even further. Police in North-Rhine Westphalia have reported that there are criminal groups whose members also originate from the Maghreb.
Although Germany has concluded readmission agreements with both Morocco and Algeria, people from those countries often destroy their identification documents upon reaching Germany. In many cases, they are then refused reentry by their countries’ authorities, who also sometimes refuse to issue replacement documentation.
Germany’s ruling coalition is now considering taking the option of putting Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia on the ‘safe list’ of countries that purportedly pose no risk to their citizens.
Asylum applications from the citizens of these countries would be immediately recorded as “unfounded” and the applicants would most likely be deported back to their country of origin. Another consideration is housing Moroccans and Algerians in camps near the Bavarian border, where many enter the country.
However, the Greens’ Kekeritz doubts that this would have any effect in reducing refugee numbers. He emphasised the need to speed up existing procedures and make them more efficient.
Development expert Houdret said that the proposals put forward were “counterproductive”. She criticised their perceived “simplistic vision of the problem”.
Certain people that come from the countries in question would be eligible for political asylum, in order to avoid “torture in prison, political repression of family members and social repression, such as the issue of homosexuality”.
Houdret also pointed out that people using Morocco, Algeria or Tunisia as transit countries, who may have no prospects there or face repression from the police, would also be ineligible for asylum.
Niema Movassat, a development expert with Die Linke (the Left Party), also told EURACTIV Germany that “we must use our diplomatic channels to improve the human rights situation in the Maghreb countries”.
Regarding development cooperation, Germany and Europe should focus on improving the economic conditions of those people in need. “For that, we need more, not less, development aid,” he said.