Germany Learns How to Send Back Migrants — Pay Them

Police vehicles outside a migrant shelter that was targeted with a grenade
Police vehicles outside a migrant shelter that was targeted with a grenade

Berlin, 10 Jumadil Akhir 1437/20 March 2016 (MINA) – A contentious deal struck Friday between the European Union and Turkey aims to finally halt the historic wave of irregular migration to Europe from the Middle East and beyond.  But Germany, ground zero of the refu­gee crisis, faces a separate problem — what to do about all those who are already here.

The rapid rate of arrivals in the once-welcoming nation has forced a backlog of 770,000 asylum requests. About half of them, authorities say, will be rejected. That means figuring out how to get the asylum seekers who cannot stay to leave. With deportations on such a scale seen as problematic at best, the country has come up with a solution: Pay — some say bribe — them.

By the time his offer came, Lauand Sadek was already regretting his arduous trek from Iraq to Germany, Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) quoted as reporting.

A month had passed since he arrived in the promised land of migrants, yet the 21-year-old was still stuck in a crowded refugee camp. Unable to speak German, he hardly went out. Then this overwhelmed nation made him an interesting proposition: Go back home, and we’ll help build you a better life there.

“I was alone and confused,” Sadek said via Skype from Iraq, where he voluntarily returned in December. He made the choice after the German government offered him a plane ticket and up to 6,000 euros (roughly $6,540) to invest in a small business — a little grocery store in Irbil.

“I would have stayed in Germany longer, but their offer helped me understand,” he said. “It was time to go.”

The offer suggests the philosophy being embraced on this side of the Atlantic, where mass deportations are considered not only a last resort, but also a less effective tool than persuading migrants to choose to leave. Pointing to the many Mexicans who are deported from the United States but soon try to make their way back, the Germans and some of their European neighbors are also seeking ways to coax migrants to leave permanently.

“If you move me because I’m starving and I’m sent back and I’m still starving, then I’ll just try again,” said Eugenio Ambrosi, European Union director of the International Organization for Migration.

Germany, with its Nazi and Cold War memories of police state violence, is known for its gentle treatment of illegal migrants. And in years past, legal loopholes and other means of delay meant that few were deported.

But the challenge the country faces today is unprecedented. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door stance for those fleeing war in the Middle East turned it into a magnet. In addition to the would-be refugees from Syria and Iraq, job seekers from Morocco and Bangladesh flocked here with stories of persecution back home. The latter stand almost no chance of winning legal asylum.

To push them out, Germany’s answer encompasses both threats and inducements, including offers of extra cash, business investment grants, even the promise of vocational training if migrants agree to voluntarily go home.

Under an incentive plan for Iraqis, for instance, Sadek received the equivalent of $1,000 up front and stands to get $5,400 more in the coming weeks once his business plan for a grocery store is finally approved. Nearly 100 other Iraqis have received promises of English classes and money to open restaurants or other businesses. Under a pre-existing but expanded program, more than 5,000 Kosovars over the past two years received up to 3,000 euros — about $3,300, or nearly nine months’ worth of the average salary in Kosovo — to return.

For Germany, the emphasis on voluntary returns could also prevent what would otherwise be politically damaging scenes at airports if vast numbers of distraught migrants were suddenly sent packing via mass deportations.

“Compared to the United States, Germany is soft,” said Dietrich Thränhardt, a migration expert at Münster University. “They don’t want to act too dramatically.”

It’s not all Mr. Nice Guy.

German authorities are also forcibly repatriating more people, with expedited processing of economic migrants masquerading as refugees. After targeting nationals from Balkan nations, they are now focusing on North Africans and Afghans with weak cases for asylum. The number of migrants deported from Germany rose to 20,888 in 2015, almost double the number in 2014.

Still, far more migrants in Germany went back home willingly last year than were deported — at least 37,000. Compare that to, say, France, where deportations in 2015 outpaced voluntary returns by a margin of 3 to 1.

Germany is relying on voluntary returns because, in many cases, that is the only way to get rid of migrants. Since Merkel’s famous welcome speech last year, nationals from a dizzying number of countries have crossed German borders, with many destroying their passports to make it harder to send them back.

Some nations, particularly in West Africa and parts of Asia, are refusing to take back their citizens without solid proof of identity. In December, Pakistan sent 30 deported migrants back to Europe because, it said, it could not determine if they were really Pakistani.  (T/R07/R01)

Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)