'Safe countries': German MPs vote to block asylum applications from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria

© Tony Gentile
German lawmakers have voted to classify Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria as “safe countries of origin,” meaning that asylum applications from those nations would only be accepted under exceptional circumstances.

The law would only allow for asylum seekers from those countries to have their cases considered if they can show “persecution which diverges from the general political situation in their homeland."

Speaking to the chamber on Friday morning, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière defended the legislation, saying that “being able to say ‘no’ is also a part of helping.”

He went on to state that many migrants were coming from the countries not because of persecution, but “because benefits are better [in Germany] than they might be in their home country.”

De Maizière, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has been rallying for the legislation since early this year.

The vote was made possible under the German constitution, which allows the government to classify countries as safe “if it appears guaranteed that neither political persecution nor inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment occurs" in those nations.

However, opposition politicians insist that persecution against minorities, including homosexuals, continues to take place in North Africa, and have pushed back against the legislation.

"This is a black day for the basic right to asylum in Germany," Left Party MP Andrej Hunko said following the vote, as quoted by the Local. Those thoughts were echoed by Axel Hochrein, spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Federation (LSVD).

“Anyone declaring Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to be 'safe countries of origin' is justifying the persecution of homosexuals," he said. "In all three countries, consensual sexuality between adults of the same sex is threatened with heavy prison sentences...[voting ‘yes’ would] show that the criminalization of gays and lesbians has no human rights significance to Germany.”

"Classifying these three countries as safe countries of origin and deciding in future on the asylum applications with a fast-track procedure affects the core of the fundamental right to asylum – the right to individual examination," Ulrich Lily, the president of Diakonie – the social welfare organization of Germany's Protestant churches – told German media group RND on Friday.

The Left Party and the Greens are aiming to block the measure in Germany's upper house of parliament, when it goes to a vote in June.

"Human rights, in the Maghreb are in a bad way," Green Party foreign affairs expert Jürgen Trittin told German newspaper Saarbrücker Zeitung. "These are not safe countries of origin. Period."

Refugees arriving from North Africa are part of the wider refugee crisis being faced by Europe. Over a million asylum seekers arrived to the continent in 2015, most of whom hailed from Syria, where a civil war has killed 250,000 and displaced more than 12 million since 2011, according to UN figures.