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Germany's deportation dilemma: high stakes in Scholz' migration masterplan
Apologies for not sending out a newsletter for the past fortnight. I had tonsillitis and was lying in bed for most of that time! As usual, I paused payments for the period when I wasn’t writing.
In a recent edition of Der Spiegel, Germany’s leading political magazine, Olaf Scholz’ face was splashed across the cover accompanied by the words: “we need to finally deport in a big way.”
In terms of the actual substance of what the chancellor said, there was nothing new here. The coalition agreement, signed by his traffic light government back in 2021, committed the government to a “deportation offensive” with a focus on “criminals and extremists.”
More significant was the way in which Mr Scholz’ words were presented. He reportedly told MPs for his Social Democrats (SPD) that they needed to give him some space to make a big announcement on migration - and the traditionally SPD-friendly Der Spiegel gladly cooperated.
By splashing the quote on its front cover and then running with it for the next week (every politician between Berlin and Buxtehude was given the chance to comment), Der Spiegel willingly let itself be a tool in the chancellor’s campaign to “take the initiative” on the issue of migration.
With the Alternative for Germany soaring in polling, Germany’s centre-left establishment clearly believes that it is time to close ranks and try and take back the limelight on the one issue which poll after poll shows is dominating the public mood.
But, as Der Spiegel argued in an editorial on the quote, Scholz now has to deliver. Deporting rejected asylum seekers “in a big way” is something that is fairly easy to measure against the government's own statistics. If, by the next election in 2025 the number of deportations hasn’t gone up significantly, the only party that will gain is the AfD.
And then there is the other side of the coin. In the public’s expectation, it is not just the quantity of deportations that is important, much more relevant is the quality. Particularly since the Hamas terror attacks in Israel, people fear a return of Islamist extremism. More than anything, it is extremists that people want deported.
But, in terms of both numbers and the type of person that is to be escorted out of Germany, the government will struggle to meet the high expectations that Mr Scholz has set for himself.
Let’s take the bare numbers to begin with.
In the first half of this year, Germany deported 7,861 people. As the government tirelessly points out, that is a 25 percent increase on the previous year. The number is rather less impressive if one considers that roughly 200,000 asylum applications were made in the same period and, based on historical data, one can expect roughly half of these to be rejected.
The simple truth is that the vast majority (over 90 percent) of people whose asylum claims are rejected end up being classified as “Geduldet” (tolerated) because German authorities aren’t able to 100 percent verify where they have come from, or their home state simply refuses to take them back.
There are close to 300,000 people living in Germany as Geduldet today.
A little look at where Germany is deporting reveals this issue in all its starkness.
The vast majority of deportations that happened in the first half of this year were to Georgia, Moldova, Macedonia, Serbia and Albania. In other words, deportations essentially only happen to countries in the inner orbit of the EU.
All of these countries are on the road towards becoming EU members and have an obvious interest in cooperating with Berlin on stamping out illegal immigration by their own nationals.
Next on the list of countries that Germany deports to: Italy, France, Poland and Austria. In other words, countries that (at least on paper) have agreed to the EU’s Dublin rules that dictate that an asylum request is to be made in the first country the person arrives in.
Look a bit further down the list and you will find Morocco and Pakistan as the only non-European countries that Germany has managed to deport people to over the past decade. But the numbers for both of these countries for last year? Zero and zero.
Morocco reportedly has stopped taking back its nationals as it tries to gain leverage over the EU on its claims to the illegally annexed Western Sahara region. Why Pakistan has stopped taking people back is less clear.
The fact that so many countries simply refuse to take back their own nationals has led Scholz to create a new post in his government: since the beginning of this year Germany has a “Special Representative for Migration Deals.” That fancy job has been handed to a man called Joachim Stamp, who has been travelling the world trying to persuade developing countries to sign deals whereby they agree to take back illegal immigrants in return for easier access to the German job market.
So far he has managed to agree deals with India and Kenya, two countries not known for contributing much to the refugee crisis. He is working on a deal with Morocco.
In terms of the bigger picture of reassuring the public, more important than the sheer number of people that Germany deports is the type of person. That is because polling consistently shows that the German public have an ambivalent relationship towards immigration.
On the one hand, most people recognise that migration is important for the economy. A majority also tend to see it as enriching for their culture. At the same time, a majority also fear that it has a harmful effect on public safety. Unsurprisingly, those fears shoot up in the immediate aftermath of terror attacks.
In other words, picking out the small number of bad apples is critical for ensuring acceptance of migration as a whole. That’s why the government has publicly committed itself to deporting extremists. It did so in its coalition agreement and, since October 7th, various ministers have pledged to kick out Hamas supporters.
The simple fact is though that the vast majority of extremists can’t be deported. Data from 2021 on people the intelligence services classify as Islamist extremists shows that the majority are German nationals.
The next largest group is Syrians. Due to the disastrous security situation in the Levantine country Germany has had a complete ban on deportations to the country since 2012.
Much further down on the nationalities of known extremists is Iraq. There is some movement here that Berlin is quietly proud of.
Last month, for teh first time in years, a chartered flight took off for Baghdad carrying seven Iraqi nationals.
While the deal is still very hush hush, building on that flight would mark a significant milestone in Scholz’ attempts to solve his deportation dilemma through tricky bilateral deals. There are some 35,000 Iraqis living in Germany who have had their applications for asylum rejected.
All in all, Scholz seems to be taking a big gamble on promising to solve the migration crisis through deportations. Migration pacts with the main countries people migrate from are still a long way off. And, even if they end up being successful, they are not going to solve the most pressing problem of controlling Islamist extremism in Germany.