Bavaria tightens borders amid German rethink on migrants

Bavaria tightens borders amid German rethink on migrants
By Hans von der Brelie
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As Germany grapples with divisions over migration, Bavaria takes action to stem the flow through the country's southern border

In 2015 many thousands of migrants from around the world arrived in Hungary and Austria. But their country of choice had another name; Germany. Insiders travelled to Bavaria, to revisit areas at the heart of the migration debate. The tiny village of Pfenningbach, situated close to the border with Austria, is one such community. Around 300 people live there and many of its residents have signed a petition against converting an empty building into housing for some 100 asylum seekers.

Christian Erntl is among the founders of this local protest movement determined to send a message to Berlin that migrants are less welcome than they were before. He took us to woods behind his garden to explain his concerns. "Around here, we found huge numbers of backpacks and clothes," he says. "All along the path leading up to the woods, backpacks and clothes were spread all around."

In one incident people arrived at his house. "It was around 11 in the evening, a group of about 20 people rang our door bell, it was a big family from Syria. Their mobile batteries were empty and they asked if they could use our phone."

Enrtl says partially burnt or torn identification document can sometimes be found lying in the woods. "They destroyed documents and clothes to avoid to get sent back to Greece or Hungary - the countries where they got their first registration [entering the EU]. They want to get a "first" registration in Germany, in order to stay here.

"There should be border controls to check who is entering our country," he adds. "That's my opinion. There should be controls. Who is entitled to receive asylum protection? Who is in need? And who is not? Those leaving their country of origin just for economic reasons, those coming to Germany just in order to make money, they should be sent back. And this should be done at the border."

Asylum seeker settlements

It was partly in order to deal with the concerns of citizens like Christian that Bavarian authorities took action, opting to toughen its rules for those seeking asylum. It set up centres where they could be housed while their applications were being processed.

Insiders visited one in Ingolstadt, a typically well-off Bavarian city, situated in in a rundown area on the outskirts of the city. The guarded settlement of containers houses rejected asylum seekers from Western Balkan countries. The government wants them to go back. The tougher implementation of expulsion orders, which also targets migrants from Asia and Africa, triggered secondary migration movements across Europe. A growing number of people leave Germany for neighbouring European countries.

Dragan Komazec, from the former Yugoslavia, is among those destined for deportation. "When we got the second negative decision from the court, rejecting our request for asylum protection, my wife started to get very much afraid and finally she decided to leave this place," he says. "She took the children and left for the Netherlands. It is difficult to know where to go, it is difficult to know what to do. My wife wants to protect her children."

Under the Bavarian governments plans asylum seekers are grouped together in large housing structures, called "anchor centres", where they stay until a decision on their request is made. If their application is rejected they can take their case to an administrative court, thereby extending the duration of proceedings significantly. During this time they have to stay in the centres for up to 18 months.

Migrant support groups have condemned the policy. "The people try to find a way to get out of this place," says Lisa, of the Infobus Volunteer project, which travels around offering advice to migrants. "They ask us how they can proceed. They do not want to stay in this camp for such long periods. We know people living here since two-and-a-half year... There was a big scandal recently, maybe a month ago or so, the administration started to hand out less money. People did not understand why, asking us: what's going on? The Bavarian government wants to change the whole system, switching to non-cash benefits, stopping to hand out money."

Her colleague Moritz says their human rights are being flouted. "We are clearly against those camps. Basic human rights are disregarded in those camps. People are not treated well. Those camps are producing more problems, compared to decentralized housing schemes. The people are stressed, thereby generating conflicts among each other. There are disputes because so many people are kept closely together in such a cramped place."

Another volunteer, Konstantin, says those living in the centre are in constant fear. "Every week police cars are collecting people. Everyone can hear it, during the night. Around four or five o'clock it gets noisy, because of the deportations. Moreover, there are no keys for the doors. Bathrooms can not be closed with keys, that's a permanent threat and insecurity for the people living there."

INSIDERS | Migrants less welcome in Germany - Part 1

Boosting borders

In the city of Passau, close to the Czech and Austrian border, Insiders encountered more evidence of Bavaria's get-tough policy.

We met Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soder and Interior Minister Joachim Herrman, the driving force behind the stricter rules for asylum seekers. The conservative politicians were in Passau to see the delivey of drones to be used for aerial patrols of the Bavarian border, part of a 14-million euro package earmarked for the new Bavarian Border Police.

"A request for asylum has to be filed at the place of first entry in the European Union," says Herrmann. "No one has the right to cherry-pick or to choose at will the country where he wants to be received. And people especially do not have the right to file a second, a third, a forth asylum request in several European countries. The request has to be filed in the first country of arrival and a decision has to be taken there. That's why we think best to send back those people who just want to move on, to send them back to the country where their first asylum request is treated."

Two out of three Germans back the idea of refusing entry to the country to those not able or not willing to show their identification papers.

Söder says border-free travel across Europe works only if the exterior borders of Europe are protected effectively "If you have a good garden fence, if everything is secured, then you can leave the front-door of your house open, sometimes. But never ever I met someone without a garden fence, without any security system - leaving the door of his house open the whole night long... If this European continent will not be able to establish the idea "Europe protects", all other things will crumble down. And maybe even the stabilty of our democracy is put at risk to some extent."

The new Bavarian border police force has state-of-the-art equipment. In addition to the drones it has mobile scanning and fingerprinting units to immediately process any migrants. Demonstrating the kit officer Jurgen Zols said: "we can check if a person entered Germany before? Is this person on a search-list? And moreover - that's really important for us - we have access to EURODAC, a database enabling us to check if the person was already registered in another country. That's important in order to know if this person later-on can be sent back to this country."

Germany's border with Austria stretches some 800 kilometres and has 90 border-crossings. Three major crossings are checked frequently. The launch of the new force patrols not just at the border, but also in a 30-kilometre wide buffer zone.

INSIDERS | Migrants less welcome in Germany - Part 2

Deportations to Afghanistan

Germany has resumed large-scale deportations of migrants to Afghanistan after the German chancellor gave her green light. A recent opinion poll shows 86 percent of Germans back the deportation of rejected asylum seekers. But not everyone agrees. In Munich Insiders met a group of left-wing protesters opposed to what they call "a shift to the radical right" of Bavarian and German mainstream parties.

"The situation (in Afghanistan) got worse, said Stephan Dunnwald, of the Bavarian Refugee Council. "But (the German government) says 'we have a new security assessment and therefore we can resume deportations' It means that all those young single men having received a negative answer are sent back. That is what happens now."

The Bavarian Refugee Council, a non-governmental refugee support network, lobbies against deportations and stricter asylum procedures. It also opposes the holding centres.

"The problem is that people get isolated, said Jana Weidhaase, a BRC volunteer. "They have less access to legal counsel. The asylum procedures are speeded up much too much and they can't detail adequately their reasons to ask for asylum."

She was speaking on the same day that 69 rejected asylum seekers were escorted to a plane and flown to Kabul. Later, one of the deported men was reported to have committed suicide.

At the airport, where the Bavarian Refugee Council had been staging a protest, some passengers stopped to listen. One travelling from Munich to London were originally from Afghanistan but have lived in Bavaria for decades.

"I am against those deportations, too, said Shala Safi. The situation in Afghanistan is really, really bad. We see this almost on a daily basis: there are attacks, suicide-bombers. Every day people are killed there."

In Munich Insiders also encounted Amiri, who spoke of his fears of being next on the deportation list. He wants to start professional training and become a dental assistant in Germany. He explained what drove him to leave Afghanistan: "The Taliban asked me several times to join and to work for them, but I refused because, being an Afghan, I cannot accept what they say and what they do. They kill people every week, every day, in Afghanistan. I do not want to go for jihad, because this is really wrong."

In pushing through tough policies Stephan Dunnwald says Bavaria is taking a lead from a hardline approach elsewhere: "Bavaria tries to copy-paste the direction given by Viktor Orban in Hungary and to implement similar politics in Germany. Bavaria always tried to present itself being a true hardliner. The upcoming regional election is even toughening this trend. This lashing out hits the weakest in this society, it is against the refugees."

"Rule of law at stake"

One of the most high profile migrant centres is in the eastern Bavarian city of Regensburg. Insiders availed of a rare opportunity to film inside the facility during a visit by the Bavarian Interior Minister, who was there to outline his policy on asylum seekers.

"We have to better implement our decisions," Joachim Herrmann said. "Those who do not get the right to stay, they have to leave our country. The credibility of our rule of law is at stake."

The media were given only limited access to film inside the centre and as the Insiders team was leaving they received information via WhatsApp of a developing protest. A group of Ethiopians tried to block the Minister's convoy. Their sit-in obliged him to leave by the rear exit.

Later on we meet three of the protesters in a private flat. They want better food, healthcare, work permits, access to German lessons and, primarily, to be moved out of the centre. Speaking in English they asked us to conceal their identity.

"100 percent of Ethiopian asylum seekers get rejected, we are living in deportation camps," said a young man."They can not sleep the whole night, most people are fearing of deportation not only to European countries but also to the countries of origin where we came from, like us from Ethiopia, so they can not sleep.... they are out of their mind."

"Because in the last 27 years thousands of politicians, activists, students are killed on the street (in Ethiopia). Hundreds of thousands of people are arrested in harsh prison. I am one of the victims."

"My brother was murdered by the government," said his female friend. "They are chasing me, they are trying to knife me, they are trying to rape me. I do not have any option - maybe, when they obliged me by force to return to my country, I prefer to kill myself, that is the last decision, because I know what I am going to face: it is dead. when I return to my country, dead will wait for me."

"Rather than going back to my home country, I want to make a suicide on myself," added the young man.

INSIDERS | Migrants less welcome in Germany - Part 3
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