As the number of African migrants who have died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe continues to grow, the German Ministry of Interior has proposed returning migrants intercepted at sea to Africa according to Reuters. In a report published by German newspaper Welt am Sonntag on Sunday, the Ministry urges the European Union (EU) to adopt the Australian-style system under which migrants intercepted at sea are sent for processing at camps in developing countries.
In what appears to be a significant shift from Germany’s decades-long leniency toward migrants, the country’s Ministry of Interior now wants all migrants picked up in the Mediterranean to be sent back to Tunisia, Egypt, and other North African countries, where they can apply for asylum.
“The elimination of the prospect of reaching the European coast could convince migrants to avoid embarking on the life-threatening and costly journey in the first place,” a German ministry official told Welt am Sonntag.
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While the Ministry, which is headed by Thomas de Maiziere, maintains that there is no formal plan or discussions going on at the EU level about the proposal, it notes that under the proposed system, only migrants whose asylum applications are accepted will be safely transported to Europe.
However, the German opposition has lashed out at the Ministry saying the proposed system is likely to cause a major humanitarian scandal and is “a step toward [the] elimination of the right to asylum.”
The head of Germany’s opposition Left Party, Bernd Riexinger, criticized the Ministry’s proposal saying that asylum applications should be dome in Germany where applicants can easily access legal aid.
Riexinger further criticized Australia’s way of handling asylum seekers, saying it is “absolutely unacceptable.”
In recent months, German Chancellor Angel Merkel and her party, the Conservative Christian Democrats, have been under heavy criticism for their open-door refugee policy, which has seen the party lose significant votes to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party in recent elections.
Mediterranean Migrant Crisis
In October, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported that at least 3,740 migrants have died while trying to sneak into Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
The humanitarian organization also says that the number of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean this year has hit a record high, adding that it is the deadliest year to date.
“This is the worst we have ever seen. From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiraled to one in 88,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said.
Many of these migrants are refugees from war-torn countries such as Syria, Somalia, Libya, and other African and Gulf countries.