Germany has boosted the number of repatriations of rejected asylum seekers to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, Berlin said on Monday, following years of diplomatic pressure on the Maghreb states.
“We have managed to improve cooperation with these countries, which has resulted in a rise of repatriations,” said an interior ministry spokesman.
Between 2015 and last year, repatriations from the biggest EU economy to Algeria rose from 57 to 504, he said.
To Morocco, they increased from 61 to 634, and to Tunisia from 17 to 251 over the same period.
Immigration and refugee flows became a flashpoint issue in Germany after Chancellor Angela Merkel decided in 2015 to keep borders open to a mass influx of people fleeing war and misery, half of them from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
The move earned her praise from liberal commentators but also sparked a xenophobic backlash that a year ago saw the far-right and anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) enter parliament for the first time.
Public fears have been heightened by several extremist attacks − especially a 2016 truck rampage through a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 and was attributed to Tunisian rejected asylum seeker Anis Amri.
Germany has since pushed hard to reduce migrant flows, especially of those deemed to be fleeing poverty rather than conflict.
Bild daily quoted unnamed German security sources saying that “intensive negotiations” had improved cooperation with the Maghreb states, especially in exchanging biometric data to identify deportees and issue them new travel documents.
Merkel’s government has also repeatedly tried to add the three North African states to its list of “safe countries of origin,” which would vastly raise the hurdles for asylum requests by its citizens.
However, passage of the bill into law has been blocked in the upper house by states ruled by the left-leaning Greens party, which argues the three Maghreb nations cannot be considered “safe” as long as journalists, gays and other minority groups are targets of state persecution there.
Germany on Sunday has denied an Italian newspaper report that it planned to fly migrants back to Italy, after the allegation drew a threat from Italy’s Interior Minister to refuse landing permission to unauthorised planes carrying asylum seekers.