Not another post about migrants, you're thinking. Please. Haven't you banged on about this enough?
I sympathize. I don't like it any more than you do. I start thinking about something interesting and non-political to write about. Then I browse a few German news websites. Invariably, within 5 or 10 minutes, I encounter some piece of reporting makes me do a spit-take. And then, more in sorrow than in anger, I again take up my soiled spade to shovel out the Augean stables of German journalistic self-delusion.
Today's candidate is Vanessa Wu, who has written an article (h/t SW) for Die Zeit on whether migrants who commit crimes in Germany can be shipped back where they came from. Overall, the article is informative and reasonably balanced. But then we get to this passage (my translation):
According to the federal immigration ministry, at least 60 percent of all asylum-seekers arrive in Germany without any identity documents. The reasons for this are diverse. Some come from countries without reliable government ministries for identification and passports such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia, or Nigeria. People from these countries may never have had personal identity papers. Others were considered members of the opposition and therefore were not given travel papers. Others lost their papers or gave them away during their flight. Smugglers often take identity papers away from their customers to prevent security agencies leaning about smuggling routes and networks. Some smugglers keep the passports as deposit for debts. Finally, some people destroy their papers out of fear that they may be rapidly sent back to their countries of origin. How many cases of missing identity papers are explained by each of these reasons, or the number of people in general who arrive without papers, have never been statistically measured.
I have no idea where the author gets the idea that Nigeria, Afghanistan, or Iraq don't have passport agencies. They do. They're probably not as efficient as Western passport authorities, but then again, that is true of every other institution in these countries. You can definitely get an Afghan passport. The German press, in fact, has published dozens of articles (like this one and this one (g)) about people waiting for the passport agency in Kabul, Afghanistan to issue them passports so they can leave the country and go to Europe. I happen to know any number of Nigerians who have passports.
Further, the vast majority of people who reach Germany have transited at least 5-6 other countries before even reaching the outer border of the EU. How did they do this without passports? Doesn't the fact that Afghans know they need a passport to emigrate to the west, and are able to get one, raise any questions for the author?
Yet the main problem with this passage is the author provides a seemingly-exhaustive list of reasons why people show up without papers without daring to mention the one reason which almost certainly explains most of these cases. Can you think of that reason? I can!
They intentionally destroyed or got rid of their passports. In Neuhaus, a German border town which became a key transit point for migrants in 2015, the mayor complained that toilets were being clogged (g) with all of the passports and identity papers migrants threw away before they were processed by intake authorities. (Once again, this shows that many migrants had passports, but threw them away as soon as they got to Germany.)
Why did they do this? For two reasons.
Reason One: So they could pretend to be Syrians. Everyone knew that the one nationality with the best chances of getting refugee status in Europe -- that is, Germany -- was Syrian. Even in the very newspaper Wu writes for, there have been articles (g) about how many migrants presented fake documents claiming Syrian nationality. A Dutch journalist showed how easy it was to get a fake Syrian passport for €750. For a picture, he used the Dutch prime minister (g).
Dozens, if not hundreds of cases of falsche Syrer -- "fake Syrians" are discovered in Germany every day. One family of Ukrainians even got residency papers by claiming to by Syrian. Since there was no personal interview or background check, they simply filled out a for claiming to be Syrian and and got recognized as Syrian refugees (g), despite not speaking a word of Arabic. They are now appealing their deportation order on the grounds -- believe it or not -- that they are entitled to rely on the government residency permit, even though they obtained it by fraud. The German government is now spending millions of dollars on specialized machines (g) and interpreters to detect fake passports and debunk false claims of Syrian nationality from Algerians, Tunisians, Egyptians, and even Pakistanis.
Reason Two: You can't deport people if you don't know where they came from. Wu just barely touches this reason when she mentions people who destroyed their ID papers to avoid "rapid" deportation. Of course, she knows, or should know, that there is no such thing as rapid deportation in modern Germany. As soon as a migrant pronounces the two syllables "Asyl" (asylum), this automatically begins a long, expensive administrative proceeding in which the asylum-seeker's claims are tested. If he loses at the first level, he can appeal. If he loses all his appeals and gets a deportation order, this begins a second set of court proceedings about whether the deportation order can and should be enforced (g). Even Green Party politicians (from the tellingly-named "realist" wing) complain that deportations take too long (g).
Wu observes that German law requires migrants who arrive without papers to "actively cooperate" with the authorities in proving their identities. She then notes that there are no real mechanisms for enforcing this theoretical duty. Why would you help the authorities find out that (1) you lied to them when you said you were a Syrian, and that (2) you're actually a Tunisian, when that means you will be (eventually) deported?
Wu notes the case of one rejected asylum seeker who missed nineteen (19) appointments to apply for a passport to enable his deportation. When authorities brought him to his home country's embassy, he remained silent. His punishment? A reduction of € 130 in pocket money. Housing, clothes, and food will continue to be provided gratis by the German state.
The case is a microcosm of the absurdity of German immigration law: The man came from Cameroon, which is a multiparty democracy and net oil exporter with "solid" economic growth. His asylum application was denied in...wait for it...
Yet when his welfare benefits were reduced (as allowed by German law) for failing to cooperate with the German authorities (as required by German law), he filed a complaint alleging that his constitutional rights to a minimum level of financial support had been violated. The case went all the way up to the highest social-benefits court in Germany, which decided the case in March 2017 (g) -- thirteen years after his asylum application had been denied. And he's still nowhere near being deported.
Every asylum-seeker knows that if you don't want to identify yourself, the German state cannot force you to, and you can live the rest of your years in Germany collecting welfare benefits (while augmenting your income, no doubt, with a variety of colorful black-market pursuits).
This is why most people destroy their travel documents.
Wu's trying to be a Good German by avoiding any comment which might imply a negative judgment of migrants' conduct. They are coded as victims, after all, and therefore are sacrosanct and may not be judged (that would constitute "blaming the victim", a cardinal sin). But this reflects a kind of condescension toward migrants, whether intentional or not. They are portrayed solely as helpless, fearful objects and victims of anonymous social forces and bureaucracies, not as people capable of taking responsibility for their fate and their decisions.
Articles like this fail to take migrants seriously as responsible adults capable of rationally following incentives. As long as that mind-set dominates German politics and journalism, there can't be a productive debate on immigration.