German ministry wants to intercept migrants at sea, returned to Africa

German ministry says country’s interior ministry wants the European Union to adopt Australian-styled policy that would see refugees being intercepted at sea and returned to Africa to apply for asylum there

File photo
File photo

The German Interior Ministry wants to stop asylum-seekers ever reaching Europe’s Mediterranean coast by intercepting them up at sea and returning them to Africa, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported on Sunday.

“The elimination of the prospect of reaching the European coast could convince migrants to avoid embarking on the life-threatening and costly journey in the first place,” the paper quoted an unnamed ministry spokeswoman as saying on Sunday.

It will also replicate the Australia’s controversial policy which intercepts asylum-seekers at sea before sending them for processing at camps in third countries.

The proposal would represent a huge shift in migrant policy for Germany which has a relatively generous policy toward asylum seekers fleeing war and strife. Germany welcomed about 890,000 new arrivals last year.

If enacted, the proposal would see asylum-seekers picked up in the Mediterranean Sea, most of whom set off from conflict-torn Libya, to be sent to Tunisia, Egypt or other north African states to apply for asylum from there. 

If their asylum applications are accepted, the migrants could then be transported safely to Europe.

“The goal must be to remove the basis for people-smuggling organizations and to save migrants from the life-threatening journey,” the ministry spokeswoman said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats party is under pressure from the right-wing of the party, especially their political allies in Bavaria's Christian Social Union, to revamp the country's asylum policies. The CDU has already lost votes to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in regional elections.

The ministry is headed by Thomas de Maiziere, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats. The ministry said there were no concrete plans or discussions at EU-level about the proposal, but opposition politicians condemned the plan.

Germany’s opposition condemned the idea, with Greens co-chair Katrin Goering-Eckardt accusing the Ministry of the Interior of treating refugees as a “contagious disease.”

Bernd Riexinger, head of the leftist opposition Die Linke party, said it would be "a humanitarian scandal and a further step toward elimination of the right to asylum," the paper reported. He said asylum applications should be filed in Germany to ensure applicants had access to legal help and he called Australia's treatment of migrants "absolutely unacceptable."

More than 2,200 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea in a single day on Saturday and 10 bodies were recovered, Italy's coast guard reported. The International Organization for Migration reported last week that at least 159,496 people had reached Italy by sea this year and 4,220 died trying - a sharp increase from 3,777 in the whole of 2015.