Analysis. A bill presented by Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière is widely seen as an unnecessary and possibly illegal ploy to win over immigration hardline voters.

Merkel’s new election tactic: phone inspections, fast-track deportations

These are the cornerstones of a bill written by Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU), approved by the Merkel government, and extolled in a press conference this week:

Rapid expulsion from the Schengen area of ​​all refugees without residence permits. Unlimited authority to search refugees’ mobile phones, in order to avoid the use of multiple identities as did the terrorists who attacked Berlin and Ansbach. Monitoring of 1,600 dangerous individuals by security services. And more than doubling of the maximum time of custody: from four to 10 days.

“The German executive’s policy always had two sides: Those in need of protection can remain with us; others must leave Germany and the Schengen area as soon as possible,” de Maizière said of the bill, supported by Merkel, who is very concerned about her decline in the polls. It’s yet another turn of the screw to block refugees from Europe. The new measures serve to “improve the application of obligatory repatriations,” according to de Maizière.

But the measure is far from welcome. Praise has come almost exclusively from Bavaria, where bans on full veils came into force this week. But other regional officials are boycotting the fast-track deportations decided in Berlin, resorting to full blown sabotage. The president of Schleswig-Holstein, Torsten Albig (SPD), said he’ll oppose repatriations by all means. “I am disappointed by the government,” he said. “Afghanistan is not a safe country. We can’t do this.”

In Kiel, they have already slammed on the brakes, suspending for a week all deportation proceedings for Afghans. That’s how the German federal republic works. But de Maizière responded testily: “This point annoys me because until recently we had agreed.”

Other states are practicing similar disobedience, including Thuringia, ruled by a red-red-green coalition. They’re prepared to resist the bill, which usurps the readmission agreement that Germany signed with Afghanistan in October. The first collective “deportations” began two months ago.

On Wednesday, however, 50 deported Afghans boarded a plane in Munich. It is the third mass expulsion of asylum seekers to Kabul since December.

But the “small-scale repatriations” organized by de Maizière aren’t really working as they should. And pending the effects of the draft law adopted yesterday by the CDU-CSU and SPD, Katja Kipping, the leader of Linke called on the government to comply with the law, reminding them that “mobile phones and computers fall within the sensitive area of privacy.” The left doesn’t want to entrust the police officers of BAMF, the federal immigration office, with the authority to seize people’s belongings and personal data.

The refugee association Pro Asyl has said the bill is meant to weaponize deportations, “a propaganda measure for the elections” of Sept. 24. NGOs have come together to oppose the law, mostly on the grounds that it’s meaningless. “Already we can hold detainees for up to 18 months,” said a volunteer at a refugee center in Berlin. “This is an election tactic by the Merkel government.”

De Maizière promises that voluntary returns (there were 55,000 in 2016) remain the main solution to the refugee emergency. “But for those who will not accept incentives to return, we are now offering legal tools for their removal,” wrote the interior minister.

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