When Federal Minister Gerd Müller announced that repatriation was one of his new priorities in 2017, everyone involved in development policy was aghast. Myself included. In the course of the preceding heated migration debate the Development Minister had allowed himself to be harnessed to the cart of his party colleagues Söder and Seehofer, who were eagerly trying in vain to siphon off voters from the AfD through a campaign of sealing off borders and deportation. He enthusiastically defended his approach. He was proud to be the only minister in the cabinet to have worked on Seehofer's "Master Plan for Migration" and triumphantly characterised it as a noble deed in the field of development policy.
Development policy: a fig leaf
Four years after this bizarre spectacle, it has to be said that the field of repatriation has lost some of its public attention. Nevertheless, the events taking place have not become any less questionable. Even today, one part of Germany's development policy serves the domestic political interest of the CDU/CSU political parties in returning refugees and migrants to their countries of origin. This element of development policy is supposed to create jobs that keep people in their countries of origin from migrating and to place those who have been “repatriated” in jobs. The fact of the matter is, however, that it is all mainly about using development policy as a fig leaf for disgraceful deportation and repatriation practices. This cost the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) around EUR 250 million from 2017 to 2020. All this not only contradicts the development policy mission of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, which is supposed be more concerned with fighting poverty and inequality in partner countries and not with the interests of Germany and the EU in walling off Europe – it also simply does not work.
Perspektive Heimat – a development policy mirage
From the very beginning, it was clear that the Ministry was primarily concerned with producing success stories in the areas of counselling and job placement by virtue of high numbers. The official 9,452 counselling interviews that have taken place in Asia and Africa over the last four years often cite visits by a staff member of the German Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to a university or a stand at a trade fair. With a well-filled lecture hall, this allows hundreds of counselling talks to be put on paper in a single day. This has little to do with real counselling. At such venues, nothing is said about the duration and quality of the jobs people are placed in, so the figures are simply meaningless.
Over the last few years, I have visited counselling centres in Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia. I have also met with the support organisations that have been hired in Erfurt, Trier and Stuttgart. All this has solidified my impression that the supposed “Perspektive Heimat” (“prospects at home”) is a development policy mirage. There was not much to be seen on site of the success stories that the ministry has trumpeted in connection with the programme. None of the centres is likely to have deterred anyone from migrating to Europe. The reintegration of returnees - if anything like this happened at all – has been on a very modest scale. It may make sense to counsel young people on how to find a job. The public hullabaloo that the Ministry of Development is making about it all is completely inappropriate, however. To claim that the programme has any positive effects benefitting migrants is pure deceit.
Understanding migration as an opportunity
A development policy driven by domestic political interests is not only wrong - it does not work, either. The "Perspektive Heimat" programme should be abolished. Instead of using development cooperation to promote a policy of sealing off borders, structures must finally be created that open up legal immigration channels for people. Migration can have positive development effects. It is negligent to waste this potential. Spending so much money on ineffective measures like those provided for in the "Perspektive Heimat" programme is foolish, however.