INSTITUTIONAL RACISM
Interviews on the Politics of Exclusion
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"Institutional Racism" by Helmut Draxler

The project "Institutional Racism"

 
Dr. Gerold Lehngut

Mag. Wolfgang Taucher

 

 

 
Interviews carried out in Summer 1997 with leading Austrian and German officials appointed for the implementation of the foreigner and asylum legislature.

Mag. Wolfgang Taucher
Head of the Austrian Federal Asylum Office

My name is Wolfgang Taucher, I've been the Head of the Federal Asylum Office in Austria for over a year. The Federal Asylum Office is the Asylum Authority in the first instance, that is, we as a Federal authority with branches in the Länder decide in all cases and in the first instance whether somebody is a refugee or not.

As all neighbour countries of Austria count as Safe Third Countries, it is impossible, due to the third country regulation, for many refugees (also politically persecuted refugees) to attain a proper asylum proceeding. Their applications are in most cases already rejected as "manifestly unfounded" at the border. Most refugees are therefore forced to enter illegally in order to make their application internally.

If someone makes an asylum application at the border, which is then rejected as "manifestly unfounded", he can be deported for example via Hungary to the Ukraine, where there's no asylum procedure at all. However, in spite of this, the Ukraine counts as a safe third country!

Their is no rejection at the border due to the third country regulation; on the contrary, it is merely decided whether entry will be granted or not. That is the difference between the procedure which takes place internally! According to the law every safe third country has to carry out the refoulement check. The danger of the chain deportation is very much an issue in the third country concept. The deportation chain has to be interrupted at some point. This is then the case, if a state does not deport any further since the next link in the chain is an unsafe country. The Third Country Regulation has its justification and is nothing new. One point was already widely discussed at the Refugee Convention of 1951: Does the refugee have the right to select his country of residence? The founding fathers and mothers of the Refugee Convention came to the conviction: no.

Through the new Asylum Law people on escape only have the opportunity of appealing against a decision of the Asylum Office within 48 hours. Until now, at least it was 14 days, corresponding to the general appeal norm in Austria. Constitutional lawyers see in this a contradiction to the constitution.

According to the law it's not 48 hours, but 2 days and in juridical terms 2 days is longer than 48 hours. Strange as that seems, that's just how it is. The idea is to react quickly in the case of certain procedural constellations. This is not only a European concept, but is widely accepted. The UNHCR also doesn't fundamentally oppose special proceedings for certain case constellations, as they make sense and, in the last instance, serve the right of asylum.

In the Schengen Agreement there is an article which determines that transport companies, such as airlines have to cover the costs of the return flight of passengers without a visa. This leads to people in flight from their country, which persecutes them politically, being turned away at the reception desk of the airlines. Do you approve of this regulation, or would you personally speak out for a change to this requirement?

No. That is, I see this regulation somehow as a technical detail in the Schengen Agreement, nothing more nor less. It doesn't in principle affect our checks. If someone does in fact come to Austria by air, his case will be decided upon through a separate examination regime in a separate airport proceeding. If it is decided it's a manifestly unfounded asylum case, then this regulation is a technical instrument 
for coming to the implementation relatively quickly. From the moment the asylum application is made this concerns us directly and is within our executive powers. 
If someone makes an asylum application at Vienna Schwechat airport, then a check will follow. His application is dealt with relatively quickly. The clause you mention is simply to help the implementation of a negative decision.

But if the airline doesn't transport the refugee at all due to the Schengen regulation - and indeed there are numerous cases to prove this -, then everything you're saying here doesn't hold true. 
Namely, the refugee doesn't come to Vienna Schwechat at all! This was actually the question! Would you personally speak out for a change to this requirement?

Right now I don't see any need at all to make any change in the Schengen Agreement. Indeed this requirement has been in the Foreigners Law in a similar form since the beginning of 1992. Such a direct effect, where the obligations placed on the carriers lead to an overlap with the duties of the Federal Asylum Office, was not apparent for me.

There are reports of  air carriers and shipping carriers selecting passengers according to their skin colour. These then are the effects of such harmless sounding wordings of a law.

Once again, we've had these regulations until now and such selections are simply not known to me. Quite on the contrary, percentage-wise we have a relatively high proportion of people who enter via the airport.
 

Dr. Gerold Lehnguth
Ministerial Director of the Department for Asylum and Foreigner Affairs of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior 

My name is Lehnguth. I am the standing representative of the Head of Department for Asylum and Foreigner Affairs of the Federal Ministry of the Interior in Bonn. The department was founded in 1992: at that time one wanted to underline the very high priority of this political area through an independent department, in particular with regard to the increasing numbers of asylum seekers in Germany which, as you know, had reached a peak in 1992. At that time a change in the Asylum Law in Germany, which is anchored in Article 16, was considered. We work in the areas of asylum, foreigner policy, within the framework of the EU and the repatriation  of persons.

Are you actually involved in the redesign of the legislature concerning foreigners?

Yes, of course. There are drafts which are considered in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, and also in the case of party initiatives the Federal Ministry and the whole Federal Government are brought in.

What does the German legislator actually understand under integration?

In our opinion integration is an ongoing process. The foreigner enters into his new life in Germany and should continually adapt himself to the new situation.

You refer to adaptation. By adaptation, do you also mean a form of cultural adaptation?

You mustn't overinterpret the word adaptation. Of course I have to respect the customs and traditions of the new country. I also have to comply with the law system, subordinate myself to legal regulations as is natural for every other visitor. 
For me too, if I travel to foreign countries as a German. However, by this I don't mean someone should lose or neglect their cultural identity.

Children who were born and grew up in Germany can be deported to their country of origin against their will and the will of their parents. Even ill children, who can't then be medically taken care of  adequately, are also affected by this deportation practice.

These are extremely rare, exceptional cases.Basically you have to imagine the multitude of foreigners has a legal limit, and that is 7.3 million. Of course, we frequently have findings, also in the area of asylum, of parents from all countries of the world trying to gain a foothold in Germany. First of all, they just send their children as a forward bastion. To me these are really bad incidents. So, for example, children with no reference point at all here, are sent to Frankfurt in aeroplanes so they can go through a good education here. 
The children are talked to in a very gentle manner by the border officials and one tries to find out what they're after in Germany anyway.Then it turns out they have absolutely no relatives or acquaintances here, but the parents hope Germany will admit the child here and let it go through the school system.

We know of a case where a three-year old child born in Germany should have been deported. So it can't have been sent ahead by its parents. In other countries it would later simply receive citizenship, as well, on the basis of its place of birth. 

I can't comment on this individual case as I don't know it. I can't imagine that a three-year old child has been deported. If I could come back again to the asylum situation: I'm sure you know we changed the Asylum Law in 
1993 with great effort, politically speaking. Asylum, Article 16 in the constitution, has a very heavily laden history in Germany; it was very generously formulated in the constitution. However, in our opinion, it was indeed abused as a vehicle for entry. 

You mean Article 16 A, " Politically persecuted persons have the right of asylum", became a vehicle for entry?

It became a vehicle for entry and that was at the cost of the genuinely politically persecuted, who are also still, as before, protected by the constitution Article 16A. However, you have to understand we have a very meticulous asylum procedure in Germany. The first stage is that they go through one or two hearings in the Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees in Zirndorf. Then there may follow court proceedings through the Administrative Courts, should they have
received a negative asylum decision. 

Is it not so that from Austria and Germany's point of view, due to the Third State Regulation, all neighbour states count as safe third states and, therefore, it is impossible for refugees to come to Germany over land?

This question is always posed to me. The Third State Regulation was put into force on the 1st  July 1993. In the following years we still had, as before, many asylum seekers: In 1994 we had 127,000 asylum seekers, in 1995 we had 127,000 and in 1996 we had 116,000. So it's not correct to talk of "The German Fortress" or "The European Fortress" - people are still getting in 

But they have to enter illegally due to the legal regulations...

Yes, that's right, but...

Seen in this light, it's of course wrong to place the blame on organisations dealing with the trafficking of foreigners ("smuggling organisations"), for they're only reacting to the legal regulations?

Yes, okay, but you will of course agree with me that the trafficking organisations should be combated and shouldn't drag the people out of their well-
ordered circles, their original countries. We are still of the opinion that asylum seekers, who have a reason for asylum, are still able to reach Germany as before. This is also shown by the high percentage of acceptances we have here! On the other hand, if you examine the asylum seekers, who ostensibly come under the term of asylum, then it's also not always the poorest who come from these countries. They belong to a class which has enough money to pay a trafficker or a flight. That all costs a lot of money, for instance to buy a ticket from India to Germany.

The Third State Regulation, I'm sure you'll agree with me and know yourself, leads to chain deportation, the so-called domino effect. For example, a refugee deported from Germany lands in Poland and is redeported from there to the Ukraine, which counts as a safe third state...

Of course I don't agree with you there - you won't have expected me to either, because...

No?...

No, of course not!

The Head of the Austrian Asylum Office didn't dispute this...

No, we do dispute that very resolutely because we have investigated these countries very meticulously. We have cooperation agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic. These also include financial support to help both these countries in this area.

These countries, however, have invested that money primarily in border control.

That money should actually be used for three goals: firstly, to secure the borders, that's right, but also, secondly, to further develop or build up an asylum structure, and then also to extend some data areas. Thus, in Poland we have formed a committee which really does observe what the money is spent on. So it's not just used for border control.

What interest should Poland have in accepting refugees whom Germany already didn't want to let in? You said it's true that asylum seekers have the right to an orderly asylum procedure, yet the question is how it turns out!

Poland has indeed also been a democracy for a few years and they in Poland know that, and it also has a strong interest in joining the European Union. The European Union has already made offers for talks to a few countries, with Poland among them. Poland has to endorse the international agreements if it wants to be on the train to Western Europe.

You mentioned before that politically persecuted persons also have the possibility of entering Germany by aeroplane. That may be true, but there are extremely restrictive visa regulations here. In the Schengen Agreement there is even an article laying down that carriers, for example airlines, have to cover the costs of the return flight of passengers without a visa.

Well yes, in the German Foreigner Law there is also such a regulation, because we think the air carriers also have a legal responsibility. They have to check who gets into an aeroplane with a visa. In this respect I do think it's right that some air company or other doesn't just always cart people without a visa into Germany or Austria. One can't get the people out that easily, you know now you have to think about that again as well. We have a relatively large number of foreigners with compulsory exit orders, yet who won't definitely be admitted by their home country. That's a big problem, not just for Germany, also for Austria and other EU countries. That means I can't simply deport people to their home country just like that. The home country also has to be prepared to accept this person again. They say for example, that's not one of our nationals, you can't prove it. We frequently have such difficulties precisely with North and black African countries. In Hamburg, for example, there are 2000 black Africans whose identity is not ascertainable. The Hamburg Foreigners Department in some cases goes from embassy to embassy with them. So, for example, at the Senegalese embassy he says he's Nigerian, although beforehand he'd said he was Senegalese. These are disastrous proceedings.

In Germany, as in Austria and the rest of Europe, an equation of so-called illegals with criminals takes place in most of the media. This equation also finds expression in an inconspicuous way in formulations of laws. So, for example, in Article 9 of the Schengen Agreement the Schengen states are asked in the same breath to take up the fight against criminality, unauthorised entry and the unauthorised residence of persons. What do think to this?

I can only support it. I can't say anything against it. I'm unable to share the insinuation you made there before. I do indeed think the fight against illegal residence is important. Every state should actually have an overview of who is legally residing there as a foreigner. The number of illegal persons is of course rising in many countries. One also ought to let it be known in the countries of origin, "You people, there's no point in coming to Germany. If you're not really politically persecuted, then you'll have to go back again!" That's why I feel especially sorry for those who give up their existing livelihood, give all their money to a trafficker or save up and set off to follow a false promise: This is not the land where milk and honey flow. Perhaps you know from the crime statistics that 30% of crimes are committed by foreigners, while only 9% foreigners live in Germany. One has to look very carefully in this connection at whether we're dealing with the completely normal, integrated foreigners staying here, or whether it's bands who come to Germany to commit crimes, such as car theft, people trafficking, narcotics etc.

With these 30% of crimes, however, it's mostly a matter of violations of the Asylum Laws.

Okay, but if you now exclude that, then I can refer you to the fact that foreigners are involved in 60% of the organised crime. This figure plays a big role in the political debate. Only really serious crimes are counted in the area of organised crime...

But the trafficking of persons is also counted as organised crime!

Yes, it is, but not if I've simply violated the Foreigner Law or a registration regulation. 

Okay, shall we finish here!?