How safe is safe?

How safe is safe?

No more recognized refugees from the Maghreb states? © Daniel Karmann

The Greens in the Bundesrat are reluctant to classify the Maghreb states as safe countries of origin. The human rights situation there is controversial. Caritas and Misereor plead for a rejection of the bill.

How great is the risk of becoming a victim of state persecution in Morocco, Tunisia or Algeria?? This Friday, the Bundesrat will vote on classifying the three countries as "safe countries of origin" in order to significantly speed up asylum procedures. The Bundestag has already approved the amendment with the votes of the CDU/CSU and the SPD. But in the state chamber, the result depends on the Greens. For the required majority, at least three of the ten states they co-govern would have to support the bill. Several green country leaders have rejected this. Others are still undecided and demand concessions.

Caritas opposes bill

The Asylum Procedure Act speaks of safe countries of origin if there is no threat of political persecution or inhuman or degrading punishment there. Opponents, however, point to the dangers to which, for example, bloggers and journalists critical of the government, converts and homosexuals are said to be exposed in the Maghreb states. In addition to the Greens, Amnesty International and Pro Asyl have appealed to the Bundesrat to reject the bill. Caritas and Diakonie also opposed the bill. Proponents counter that in the first quarter of 2016, only 0.7 percent of asylum applications from North Africans were recognized.

Misereor takes a critical view of the project

"Germany would be the first EU country to declare all three states safe," Martin Brockelmann-Simon, executive director of the Catholic relief organization Misereor in Aachen, points out. It points to reports of arbitrary torture in Maghreb police stations and prisons and of prison sentences for human rights activists who denounce such abuses, even in relatively democratic Tunisia. In Morocco, critical articles about the monarchy or Islam would very quickly put their authors behind bars. "Reporters Without Borders" ranks the country just 131st among 180 countries for press freedom. "All in all, doubts remain about the extent to which all Maghreb states meet all the requirements for a safe country of origin," says Brockelmann-Simon.

Missionary sees human rights Not at risk across the board

But even in the ecclesiastical sphere there are dissenting voices. "I don't see North Africa as a blanket danger zone for human rights," says missionary and Islamic scholar Hans Vocking in Brussels in an interview with the Catholic News Agency (KNA). As a member of the Missionary Order of the White Fathers, he lived for eight years in Algeria. He considers the repeatedly cited risk for homosexuals in particular to be exaggerated. Homosexuality is widespread in the Maghreb, they say. "As long as it is not lived out demonstratively or leads to political demands, gays and lesbians remain unchallenged. There is no systematic persecution."This also applies to criticism of the government or conversion from Islam to Christianity. "The Greens transfer the Western culture of freedom sweepingly to Islamic societies. It does not make sense."

Impression of a sham debate

Those who can prove that they are in danger in their home country should be entitled to asylum even after a positive decision by the Federal Council. Critics fear, however, that the 14-day fast-track procedures that will then take effect will hardly guarantee the legal protection needed to make one's voice heard by the authorities. Nevertheless, the impression of a sham debate suggests itself. Hardly anyone seriously doubts that the vast majority of mostly young, male North Africans flock to Europe out of a lack of economic prospects – and that this will remain the case. "That is why, above all, the EU's cooperation with North Africa should be expanded, for example through educational partnerships," pleads Brockelmann-Simon.

Instead, rejected Maghreb asylum seekers disappear into illegality or are not readmitted by their countries. He sees this as the reason for the disproportionately high crime rate among North Africans, for example in the Dusseldorf train station district or on New Year's Eve in Cologne. This may ultimately have provided the impetus for the controversial draft amendment, but for the Misereor managing director it "does not yet justify symbolic politics".

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