Germany deported 100 Egyptians and sent them to Cairo over violations of residency requirements, including those whose asylum requests were rejected, Egyptian airport officials said Thursday, the first action of this kind from Berlin.
The move signals intent to implement a sharper migration policy by Germany, which accepted over a million refugees between 2015 and 2016, mostly from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, but later experienced a populist backlash that drove support of far-right politicians.
The deportees landed in Cairo on Wednesday on a flight from Frankfurt that included a robust security detail of 50 German officers, who returned after handing over the Egyptians to authorities at Cairo’s international airport.
Police then investigated the individuals and the circumstances surrounding their deportations, including whether any had warrants issued for their arrest. Most of them were released but over a dozen were still in custody on Thursday.
Human rights organizations often oppose deportations to Egypt over concerns those returning may face harsh treatment by authorities, who have a long history of abuses, including extensively documented cases of torture.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to reporters, said the flight full of deportees was a first for Germany, although they noted that Italy had also organized a similar deportation in the past.
Germany offered support during the migrant surge, but the number of attacks against migrants and sometimes against their supporters also rose sharply.
The issue was a key theme of last year’s election, which saw the rise of the nationalist AfD party, and was one of the biggest stumbling blocks in forming a coalition between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats.
Germany’s new government, which will be sworn in next week, has vowed to continue pushing for voluntary returns of migrants and enforce deportations of rejected asylum seekers, who until now have often remained in Germany in legal limbo.
Compared with many other European countries, Germany has generous asylum laws. They are enshrined in the German constitution in reaction to the Third Reich, when many people fleeing the Nazis survived only because they were able to get asylum in other countries.
The recent influx of mostly young, male migrants into Germany has led to an increase in violent crime in the country, a government-funded study has shown, adding to the ongoing debate in about how to tackle migrant crime, which has been fanned by a number of high-profile incidents.
Parties on the right, including Merkel’s Union bloc, want a tough response and more deportations, while those on the left say more needs to be done to integrate refugees into German society.