Row in Germany over plans to add Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to 'safe country' list

Opposition wants asylum law widened so that North African claims are swiftly rejected as 'unfounded'

The German government is under pressure from local authorities to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in the country. AP
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A row has erupted in Germany over whether Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria should be considered “safe countries” in respect of illegal migration.

Germany’s conservative opposition wants migrants from the three countries, as well as India, added to a list that means their asylum claims can be dismissed as “clearly unfounded”.

But Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock rejected the demand for blanket deportations to North Africa and India, saying the opposition "must have missed" the recent arrests of regime critics in Tunisia.

She accused the opposition of “taking a lawnmower” to foreign policy and said Germany "should get away from the construct of ‘safe countries of origin’ that gives countries a simple human rights stamp”, in an interview with a group of German newspapers published on Friday.

Despite Ms Baerbock’s reservations, ministers last week proposed adding Moldova and Georgia to the 34-country list. It includes all EU members as well as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal and Serbia.

The aim is to deter economic migrants from lodging asylum claims in Germany by signalling that they are bound to fail.

Applications deemed “clearly unfounded” can be closed sooner and people deported more quickly.

Parliament can add countries to the list if it can be “safely concluded” that "neither political persecution nor inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment exists” there.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser met her Tunisian counterpart Kamel Fekih in Tunis during the summer. EPA

Individuals can still claim asylum if they can prove they are being persecuted “despite the starting assumption” that they have no grounds to need protection in Germany.

Friedrich Merz, the leader of the opposition Christian Democrats, had called for Tunisians, Moroccans, Algerians and Indians to be included because their asylum claims had “acceptance rates below 1 per cent”.

“These countries must be recognised as safe countries of origin so that we can immediately return people there,” he said.

Figures for the first half of this year show 350 Algerians, 123 Tunisians, 115 Moroccans and 68 Indians were deported from Germany.

People are often transferred back to EU border states where they first claimed asylum.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has enjoyed a surge in the polls attributed partly to concerns over asylum.

German states and local authorities have put pressure on ministers to cut asylum numbers after an increase in claims coincided with Ukrainian refugee movements to stretch migration centres.

There are separate proposals to lengthen immigration detention from 10 days to 28 days, and widen police search powers to speed up deportations.

Updated: September 08, 2023, 11:42 AM