The policy of zero alternatives

A statement by Meral Zeller, Pro Asyl

Walling off and deportation - this is how the current asylum policy can be summed up. “Voluntary return” plays a decisive role in this, regardless of the dearth of prospects or dangerous situation in the country of origin. In the slum camps at and before the EU's external borders, it is evident that “voluntary” return becomes an option especially when there is no other option. In Greece, one in five of these departures came from EU hotspots on the Aegean islands in recent years. It is often the only way to escape the misery and lack of prospects in the camps without ever arriving at the desired destination. “Voluntary” return from slum camps? A bogus claim!

Germany, too, is trying to promote return by offering no alternatives - and is thus following the recommendation of a EUR 1.86 million report by the consulting firm McKinsey. The "migration package" adopted in 2019 provided for an extended stay in initial reception centres, the expansion of detention pending deportation and the launch of "toleration light". In the paradoxically “independent state-run” asylum procedure counselling, employees of the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) now also provide information on return options immediately upon arrival – a macabre welcome. There are justified fears that BAMF counselling could displace independent non-governmental asylum procedure counselling. These tightening measures translate into a far-reaching disenfranchisement of refugees, pushing them to the fringes of society in lieu of any German language courses, while they are prohibited from working or isolated in camps. Frequently witnessed rigorous deportations makes fear a constant companion.

A self-determined return in dignity could be an alternative to violent deportation. For this to happen, however, return would have to be more than just a possibility to leave ahead of the deportation date. The Federal Working Group PRO ASYL has set out what this could look like in seven theses on return counselling.