Refugees and migrants should be picked up at sea while trying to reach Europe and returned to Africa, Germany has said.
In a dramatic departure from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy that saw more than one million asylum seekers arrive in Germany last year, the country’s Interior Ministry has said that migrants attempting to make the crossing should be turned back and have their applications for asylum processed at centres in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia.
According to officials, the move would not only discourage migrants and refugees from making the perilously dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, but would also severely curtail the activities of people smugglers, whose businesses at least partly depend on coastal patrols intercepting the overloaded flimsy dinghies they send across the water and taking those aboard to Italy or Greece.
Speaking with the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, a ministry spokesperson said: “The elimination of the prospect of reaching the European coast could convince migrants to avoid embarking on the life-threatening and costly journey.
“The goal must be to deprive people smuggling groups of their business model and to protect migrants from the life-threatening journey.”
The ministry said that no plans had been made to hold EU-level discussions on the proposal, which many commentators have compared to the hard-line points-based system the Australian government uses to deal with migrants. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week said that any migrant who attempted to enter Australia illegally by boat would be barred from the country for life, and would be denied entry even if they later secured the right to come legally.
The news came as a German court put two alleged Syrian human traffickers accused of being responsible for eight deaths on the high seas a year ago on trial.
Ahmad Grandeur and his brother Fouad – who themselves claim to be refugees – are alleged to have worked with a Kurdish gang of people smugglers to bring Iraqi refugees into Germany, having travelled first from Turkey via Greece. They are accused of charging migrants €2,200 each to be taken across the Mediterranean in a yacht, only to force their victims into a rubber dinghy at gun point.
Prosecutors say the gang the two brothers allegedly worked with refused to supply their human cargo with orange life jackets over concerns that to do so might attract the attention of costal patrols. The attempted crossing ended in tragedy when the vessel overturned off the coat of Kos, resulting in the deaths of at least eight of the migrants travelling on board.
A verdict in the case is expected at the beginning of December.