Repressive policy against refugees

Alleged "voluntariness"

08/31/2018   Read time: 9 min

All over the world, refugees and emigrants are being forced out of the countries where they have sought refuge. With sheer violence, but in many cases also by programmes for so-called “voluntary” return. By Ramona Lenz.

2017 was the year of repatriation. In Germany, in Europe and in many other regions of the world, returning people to places they have left to seek protection and survival elsewhere has become the preferred instrument of asylum and migration policy. This instrument is in line with the logic of Western “externalisation societies” which are outsourcing the negative consequences of globalised capitalism – such as flight and forced migration. Out of sight, out of mind. So that the externa lisation societies are no longer forced to put up with the sufferings of the world directly on their doorstep, they have moved beyond deportations – violent, if necessary – and pushbacks at the border. Support for so-called “ voluntary ” return is also gaining ground, appearing to be more humanitarian and more efficient to implement.

In this context, German actors like the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) are gaining importance, as they are increasingly tasked to deal with the “ voluntary” return and reintegration of refugees and migrants. On 1 March 2017 the repatriation programme announced by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) went into force, to assist people with no prospect of asylum in Germany with their voluntary return. With the help of “reintegration scouts” GIZ is meant to “build a bridge between return counselling in Germany and German development cooperation in the countries of origin of refugees and migrants”. However, in reality those affec ted rarely have a genuine choice. Often, the decision to go is taken out of despair at the hopeless situation or to forestall threatening deportation with a ban on re-entry. The selection of countries with and in which this policy is to be implemented is based primarily on Germany’s interest in getting rid of as many refugees as possible. Two of the main countries of origin, Iraq and Afghanistan are among the target countries for supported “ volun tary” return, although the security situation is extremely bad in both countries.

“To subject as many as possible of those we regard as undesirable to intolerable living conditions, to corral them daily, subject them repeatedly to countless racist blows and injuries, to take away all the rights they have acquired, to numb this beehive and humiliate them until they have no other choice but to deport themsel ves.” This is how Cameroon intellectual Achille Mbembe describes our present situation, which he calls the “Age of Nanoracism”. One expression of this age is the policy of attrition and indirect force which brings people to the point of agreeing to their own deportation.

Wrong direction

Questions for Tejan Lamboi, Network of Ex-Asylum Seekers in Sierra Leone, on the politics of repatriation and reintegration.


If an application for asylum has been denied the targeted asylum seeker is supposed to leave Germany within a period of some weeks. Otherwise the person will face compulsory deportation. In the future an op tion of so called voluntary, supported return is offered to these group of people. A good idea?

It is like taking the first step with the wrong foot and in the wrong direction. For the asylum seeker, it is like choosing between the lesser of two evils without even being aware which of the two is worse. The problem here is that such thinking totally disregards the diver se reasons for which people flee and the difficulties associated with that process. No one ever runs away if you feel secure, protected and happy in your country of origin. Some of these asylum seekers have seen people dying while trying to flee. I don’t want to make the same mistake of generalizing here but in the context of West African asylum Seekers, I can tell you that they have experienced so much violence and trauma when fleeing, sometimes even worse than the situation they are running away from in their home countries. Therefore urging asylum seekers to leave “ voluntarily “ few weeks after they have been denied protection disregards the basic human need of seeking protection and all the struggles they endure trying to reach that safety. On the one hand you threaten people with deportation and on the other you ask them to leave “ willingly “? Any deci sion that is taken under such duress is one that lacks genuine voluntariness. This is a complete disregard for human dignity and rights! The individual becomes an object, they are considered second-rated. And instead, the all-important state policy is what needs to come first - by all means.

Return and development will be connected much more than before. Is there a chance that return programs will benefit the development in the countries of the refugee’s origin?

Return programs can definitely be strengthened to be part of mutual development cooperation between two countries. But you need to a close look on the contexts. In a situation, wherein you have experts from so-called developing countries like Sierra Leone, who have studied and made a career in a so-called developed country like England in their respective fields abroad and have rea ched a point where they are willing to go back to support their home countries, then I see a mutual benefit in facilitating such returns. The situation is very different with asylum seekers. We are talking here about people who fled because they have reached a point where they realized that they pose enormous dangers to their per sonal wellbeing and safety, if they continue to stay.

How does a development cooperation that really wants to support these people should look like?

Development cooperation needs a radical transforma tion. A transformation that makes such cooperation become how it should be – mutual. A cooperation that ensures potentially rich countries like Sierra Leone being able to benefit from their wealth, their diamonds, bauxite and gold and so on. And not one based on exploitation and unfair trade deals, which enables pow erful multinational companies from rich countries in the West in connivance with local leader to exploit resources much to their advantages. it is my view that we should remodel development cooperation, which aims to rein tegrate asylum seekers to their countries of origin, in a way that the power imbalance between developed and developing countries will be reduced.

All measures of support for returnees are based on the idea of reintegration to the job markets. Does this open realistic opportunity for return and future per spectives for the returnees?

On the surface, these offers look romantic, forward thin king and development-oriented. Providing training and technical education and support in the job market for returnees are well sounding initiatives. How I wish this was real and achievable. We are talking about countries that have been destabilized by exploitation and there fore conflicts. Countries, where a huge proportion of the population is unemployed. Where do these returnees find jobs after such training? It is no rocket science to know this might not work for the majority. Maybe we should return all the European experts and give their jobs to the returnees? Probably, but unfortunately this would still not be enough.

Interview: Ramona Lenz

Good plan, or bad joke?

Europe’s African policy:  The “Marshall Plan with Africa” presented by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is supposed to help the continent advance and combat the causes of flight. Wouldn’t that be nice? A critique of Europe’s African policy, with the voices of medico partners from the South. By Anne Jung.


“Europe’s policy for Africa was for decades often guided by its own short-term econo mic and trade interests.” How true. “It is necessary to bring a new dimension to coope ration with Africa.” Absolutely. “Establishment of production chains, fair trade condi tions, economic diversification, targeted support for agriculture and improved access to the EU single market are all required.” Nods of agreement and amazed glances at the title page. This analysis comes – difficult though it is to believe – from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), which presented the “Marshall Plan with Africa” in Germany in 2017. It even included recommendations like compliance with international environmental and social standards and stopping illegal financial flows.

However, on close examination the plan turns out to be smoke and mirrors. The Marshall Plan which made possible the reconstruction of Germany after the Second World War was funded on a scale which would correspond to €130 billion today. By contrast, there is not a single Euro reserved for the “Marshall Plan” for Africa. The BMZ paper me rely pays lip service to desirable guidelines, ignoring the fact that these are in complete opposition to the hard facts of the North’s policy for Africa.

For example, the “Marshall Plan” calls for greater fairness in trade. “Europe has done everything possible to force the countries of the South into unfair trade structures,” concludes Rangarirai Machemedze at Equinet, the medico partner network based in Zimbabwe. The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) negotiated under German leadership were signed by Kenya most unwillingly, after massive political pressure. The result is that the country must in future open up to 80% of its market for goods from Europe – including subsidised agricultural products – while at the same time reducing subsidies for local agriculture. These asymmetrical agreements threaten not only mas sive losses of revenue for the state, but also above all progressive destruction of many farmers’ livelihoods. Machemedze: “ The credibility of Germany ’s and Europe’s policy for Africa depends on whether they are ready to revise the free trade agreements.”

Susan Wamuti of NAPAD in Somalia emphasises a different aspect – the political ignorance which refutes the much-quoted idea of “equal footing”. “Concepts like the ‘Marshall Plan’ don’t even mention the African institutions. What we need, however, is a solution to managing Africa’s problems which is developed internally.” Her colleague Abdullahi Mohamed Hersi puts it even more plainly: “European policy has declared the African continent to be easy pickings.” In East Africa, where droughts and famines are recurrent crises, European groups are leasing vast tracts to cultivate jatropha, used for production of biofuel. In a country where less than 10% of the land is usable for agriculture, this has disastrous implications for food security. Hersi calls on Europe to come back to the negotiating table with viable ideas. Otherwise, “the ‘Marshall Plan’ is just a bad joke.”

Donate Now!