An offer to sell the right to protection

A Statement by Matthias Lehnert, Attorney at Law


When my clients receive a negative asylum decision from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and I explain to them what the enclosed information about return assistance is all about, they think it is a very bad joke. When people from Afghanistan, the most unsafe country in the world, are offered about EUR 1,000 in “start-up aid” for a return, it is not enough for them to buy safety and security. When people are supposed to be unilaterally advised of this option by governmental or semi-governmental agencies at the very beginning of their asylum procedure and before a decision is even made, and are to be enticed with financial offers to return to their country of origin, it is nothing less than an offer to sell their right to protection.

In a procedure guided by the rule of law and due process, and even more so in an asylum procedure having such an existential significance, and before a final decision, the state must not try to prevent people seeking protection from asserting their rights by offering them money. Human rights cannot be sold. And states cannot buy their way out of their responsibility for protection-seekers by offering them “return assistance” - as the European Court of Human Rights most recently ruled in 2019, in the case of a man who had “voluntarily” returned to Iraq from Finland and was shot dead there.

“Assistance for voluntary return” is neither about help nor about voluntariness. It is not assistance because the purpose is not to seriously support and finance a desired remigration, but rather to increase the number of departures and to relieve the strain on the state’s deportation machinery. And it has nothing to do with voluntariness when people are faced with the choice of taking advantage of state-supported return while at the same time facing the threat of violent deportation.