TOPICS: Europe ships war refugees back home

Aferdite Hasanaj looks like any of her high school friends. But there’s a difference: Every three months for the past 13 years, since her family fled Kosovo on the eve of the Yugoslavia war, she’s had to ask permission to remain in Germany. As a refugee whose asylum claim was rejected, she was subject to expulsion any time. In April, the government told her to go back, squashing her dreams of going to college in Frankfurt.

Across Germany, 220,000 war refugees denied asylum have shared Aferdite’s plight. But in a backdrop of public wariness about their perceived drain on the social system and an improved political situation in their countries, the government is speeding their return.

This summer, Germany’s 16 state interior ministers voted to hasten the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And in May, the state of Hamburg began repatriating Afghans, saying that stability there had returned. The trend is spreading across Europe, especially in countries with former liberal asylum policies. Governments are implementing plans for faster and more efficient returns of refugees.

“There is a new intensity in the harshness of the repatriation,” says Karl Kopp, European representative of Pro Asyl, a Frankfurt-based refu-gees advocacy group. There’s a bo-om, says Kopp, in so-called “departure institutions,” where refugees with failed asylum claims receive counselling meant to prepare them to leave voluntarily in exchange for receiving a stipend and food.

Government officials stress that those denied asylum know from the beginning that they will not receive legal status. Germany’s asylum regulations are considered among Europe’s toughest. Until recently, only victims of state persecutions could receive asylum. Those fleeing civil wars like in Kosovo received a “tolerated status” because the persecution they had suffered did not come directly from the state. The new immigration act that went into effect this year loosened the regulations, recognising persecutions by non-state agents. At the same time, Germany has become more efficient and less human in sending home those denied asylum, critics say.

In England, “uncooperative” asylum seekers with rejected claims, with the exception of those with families, now see their welfare benefits withdrawn. In Holland, refu-gees denied asylum can now be denied social support after 28 days. Last year, Norway started charging many officers with returning asylum seekers. Refugees denied asylum can also be denied access to the labour market or social protection.

Although there are fewer and fewer asylum seekers in Europe, those asking for asylum are seeing their claims denied in greater number.

In Frankfurt, Europe’s most multiethnic city, Aferdite’s classmates rallied to her side. And Aferdite will most likely be able to stay at least until she finishes high school because a German family has committed to support her financially here. But her mother and two siblings are most likely going to be expelled next year. — The Christian Science Monitor