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To deport or not to deport: Germany mulls over security situation in northern Syria

Syrian Refugees | 2020-12-01 08:03:00
To deport or not to deport: Germany mulls over security situation in northern Syria
   Deportations involve a lot of personnel, making them more expensive in some cases than prolonged asylum appeals | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Willnow
The parliamentary faction of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU party want to use the results of an inquest into the security situation in northern Syria to examine whether the region could be deemed a safe zone for deportation. But many have criticized the plans.

Regardless of the outcome of the inquest, only those who commit crimes and those deemed to be a risk to society would be deported to northern Syria, if the region were to be classified a safe area. The vice chair of the parliamentary CDU/CSU faction, Thorsten Frei, appealed to German Interior Minister Heiko Maas to deliver "comprehensive and detailed" results in an upcoming security report to reassess the situation.

"We will examine whether we can send back individuals to the north of Syria, which is presently occupied by Turkey," Frei said in an interview over the weekend.

Since 2012, Germany has repeatedly extended the ban on deportations to Syria due to the ongoing civil war in the Middle Eastern nation. The current extension is still due to run until the end of 2020. Many parts of the country are considered to no longer be in a state of civil war, and while peace negotiations continue, the current state of reprieve remains fickle.

A collective decision

The interior ministers of Germany’s various federal states have to take a joint decision on whether they want to prolong the ban on deportations again – and under what circumstances this would be acceptable. In addition to examining the cases of criminals and threats to society, a number of federal states (Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg and Saxony), had also suggested that supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s autocratic regime should also be sent back, in addition to those who, since being given protection in Germany, had traveled to Syria and then returned to Germany. However, there has been great disagreement over such proposed additional changes.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has joined the ranks of those calling for a relaxation of the general ban on deportations to Syria. A spokeswoman for Seehofer said that it was his opinion that there had to be allowances for exceptions to the rule. The spokeswoman also highlighted that sending a signal to those who had "thrown away their right to remain in Germany" was an important issue for the interior minister.

According to the spokeswoman, Interior Minister Seehofer will ask his colleagues at the federal state level during the meeting of the German interior ministers next month to join him in his call to "at least assess criminals and threats to society on an individual basis," and that he was hopeful of receiving support.

Various politicians in Germany, however, have criticized the plans, especially from within the senior ranks of the left-liberal SPD party, the Green Party, and the Left Party. Ulla Jelpke, spokeswoman of the Left on interior affairs, said that any such change to the existing regulation could lead to a slippery slope that might also eventually allow other groups of people to be deported to Syria.

A question of international law

A number of state interior ministers have criticized the plans too; as has the migrant rights’ association, Pro Asyl: "In view of torture prisons, random persecution and war crimes against civil society, one thing is abundantly clear: deportations (to Syria) are contradictory to international law," said the chair of Pro Asyl, Günter Burkhardt.

The head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Germany, Frank Remus, also criticized the potential introduction of any changes to the current arrangement: "There are serious security risks that deportees will have to face upon return," including "torture and death," he told the German daily Welt newspaper.

Uncertain times

The results of the assessment of the situation in northern Syria will be key to determining how many lawmakers might back Seehofer in his call for changes to the deportation regulation.

Since June 2020, there has been no update to the latest assessment. The new report is due in December; however, it is unclear whether it will be ready in time for the meeting of the interior ministers, which starts on December 09. The Interior Ministries organizational committee has already floated the idea that in the absence of a comprehensive report, it could pen its own document, presumably in time for the conference. However, none of the 16 Interior Ministries have any resources that can directly deliver such a report.

The Foreign Office meanwhile confirmed that their document should be ready in time for the conference, while the Interior Ministry refused to comment. The Foreign Office also added that the situation in Syria "remained extremely complex," without making any reference to the assessment that would be presented in its report.

Whether or not the report will be presented in time for the interior ministers' meeting is also an issue that appeared to bother Pro Asyl chairman Günter Burkard. He said that the fact that Interior Minister Seehofer did not even wait for the results of the later report proved that "this has nothing to do with the abysmal human rights situation (in Syria) but is rather a push (by the party) towards the political right." 

Legal issues and practicalities

But there are other aspects of law that also play a role when it comes to what the final decision will be. CDU lawmaker Alexander Throm also came out in support of the suggested changes, but mainly for legal reasons. He highlighted the fact that the ban on deportation should be removed in cases where individuals were considered to be threats to society, as this would be the only legal basis for them to be taken into custody.

A number of attacks in recent years by alleged Islamists has prompted various political parties to come out in support of introducing changes to the ban on deportation. Most recently, a man was killed in a knife attack in the eastern city of Dresden and died on October 4. The suspect in that case is a Syrian national with alleged extremist views.

Even if the interior ministers of Germany’s 16 federal states agreed to changes in deportation guidelines, the practicalities might prove to be more than difficult: since the onset of the civil war, Germany has cut diplomatic ties with Syria. The coordination and execution of deportations could therefore prove to be impossible.

(Info Migrants)
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