The German government has for the first time deported Afghan asylum seekers, sending 34 back to Kabul

The German government has for the first time deported Afghan asylum seekers, sending 34 back to Kabul on a chartered flight last night. Hundreds of protesters — both Afghan and German — marched against the deportations at Frankfurt Airport where the flight departed.

The migrants’ requests for asylum had been denied.

Protesters complained that the government action is misguided, given that Afghanistan is still at war with the Taliban, which effectively controls much of the country. Protesters say there is no mechanism in place to ensure the safety of the deportees once they return.

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Other German critics accused Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government of using such deportations to win back voters who are leaning towards the nationalist, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is steadily gaining in the polls.

“[Interior Minister] Thomas de Maiziere apparently panicked because of the AfD and now is playing the strongman,” German Greens MP Omid Nouripour told public broadcaster ARD. “He put on this show instead of addressing a bitterly serious issue.”

But Horst Seehofer, who heads the Bavarian CSU party that is allied with Merkel, told ARD: “How am I supposed to explain to the German public why it’s necessary to send our soldiers to Afghanistan to establish security and train Afghan forces while at the same time, we aren’t allowed to send back Afghans” from Germany because Afghanistan is not safe?

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Tens of thousands of Afghan migrants were allowed into Germany among the wave of asylum seekers that reached Europe via the Mediterranean in 2015. Germany has since been less welcoming, attempting to distinguish between refugees from conflict zones and so-called economic migrants who come to Europe in search of a higher standard of living.

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So far, most of the Afghan repatriations from Germany have been voluntary, with Merkel’s government offering financial incentives to Afghans whose asylum claims were rejected and who agree to return to Kabul.

But German officials say they plan to forcibly return more of the 12,000 Afghans living in Germany who’ve been issued deportation orders.