Send New Migrants ‘Back to Africa,’ Says German Interior Minister

Germany’s Minister of the Interior has launched a controversial proposal to return seafaring African migrants home rather than bringing them to Italy, in order to discourage more people from attempting the dangerous crossing.

Minister Thomas de Maizière said Sunday that those “saved in the Mediterranean should be sent back to Africa” instead of taking them to Europe. According to a spokeswoman for the minister, this measure would serve a twofold purpose: discouraging new migrants from coming while also demolishing the organizations of human traffickers that organize the crossings.

De Maizière is not alone in his approach. “The prevention of illegal migration does not start at our internal borders,” said Helmut Teichmann, director of the Germany’s Federal Police. “The aim of the federal government is to stop the refugees before they reach Europe,” he said.

On Saturday, 2,200 more people tried to cross the Strait of Sicily in 16 different vessels, and were rescued in a series of operations coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard who later brought them to Italy. Rescuers also recovered ten bodies of migrants who drowned during the attempt.

Critics were quick to remark that part of the incentive for attempting the crossing in the first place is the knowledge that migrant rescuers are providing a free “taxi service” to Italy.

Protesters have raised their voices in opposition to De Maizière’s plan, claiming it was a “scandal” that would effectively deny potential refugees the right of asylum, but the Minister did not back down.

“Eliminating the prospect of reaching Europe could keep them from risking their lives in a dangerous journey.” In point of fact, this year has seen the deaths of a record number of migrants during the perilous trip.

On Thursday, some 240 migrants drowned in two shipwrecks off the coast of Libya, bringing the year’s death toll in the Mediterranean to 4,220, compared with 3,777 in the whole of 2015.

The Minister suggested that once the migrants were returned to Tunisia, Egypt or other North African countries, they could submit their asylum applications which, if approved, would allow them to reach Europe safely.

As of 2 November, 159,496 people had reached Italy by sea so far in 2016, according to the International Organization of Migrants (IOM).

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