Turkish citizens’ applications for asylum in Germany on the rise, aggravating diplomatic strain

 

Growing numbers of Turkish requests for asylum

During the first nine months of the year 2016, German authorities have registered a considerable rise in demands for asylum made by Turkish nationals. Between January and September, 3,973 Turkish citizens filed their requests with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). This compares with an overall number of 1,767 demands for asylum filed in all of 2015.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-staatsbuerger-101.html, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerkei-zahl-der-asylbewerber-steigt-laut-medienbericht-a-1106227.html ))

A spokesman of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) asserted that authorities had not observed any increase in Turkish asylum applications since the failed coup attempt in July. ((http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-staatsbuerger-101.html )) Yet it is questionable whether this assertion stands up to empirical scrutiny: by the end of June 2016, the number of applicants had stood at 1,719; only to skyrocket to the abovementioned number of 3,972 by the end of September. This implies that in the third quarter of 2016 alone, the number of Turkish asylum seekers more than doubled.

Kurds dominant among applicants

During the first six months of the year, 1,510 applicants were of Kurdish origin. Kurds had already constituted a large majority of Turkish asylum-seekers in 2015. Whilst this reflects the continued and indeed escalating violence in Turkey’s Kurdish regions, the acceptance rate of Kurds has actually fallen: only 5.2 per cent of Turkish Kurds received a positive decision from the BAMF. This compares to an almost equally low acceptance rate of 6.7 per cent for Turkish applicants in general.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-08/bamf-asyl-tuerken ))

Over the course of recent months, German Kurds have increasingly mobilised, staging street protests against developments in Turkey. They have also sought to pressure the German government to relinquish what they deem to be a stance of appeasement towards Erdoğan.(( https://kurdische-gemeinde.de/bundesregierung-hat-keinen-plan-b-fuer-das-eu-tuerkei-fluechtlingsabkommen/ )) Following the arrests of Kurdish HDP leaders Selahattin Demirtaş und Figen Yüksekdağ, Kurdish associations organised a large demonstration with up to 15,000 participants in Cologne.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/kurden-demonstration-in-koeln-erdoan-laesst-einem-keine-luft-zum-atmen-1.3236375 ))

Weak position of the German government

Chancellor Merkel seemed to step up her criticism of the Erdoğan administration after the latest spate of arrests. Yet while she referred to the situation in the country as “alarming” and intimated that there would be detrimental consequences for Turkey’s attempts to accede to the EU, Merkel stopped short of any more thoroughgoing redefinition of Germany’s relations with the country.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/angela-merkel-verschaerft-kritik-an-verhaftungen-in-tuerkei-14509228.html))

In his column for the Die Zeit weekly, Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of the recently raided Cumhuriyet newspaper had repeatedly criticised Merkel for her stance. The journalist, now living in German exile after his conviction for treason in Turkey, accused her of doing too little too late to penalise the human rights violations committed by the Turkish government.((http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-07/can-duendar-eu-tuerkei-angela-merkel-kritik))

However, Germany continues to be in a weak position vis-à-vis Erdoğan’s policies: Merkel has staked her political survival on the ‘refugee pact’ with the AKP administration. This agreement is the cornerstone of Merkel’s steps to stem the influx of refugees into Germany and therefore a crucial aspect in Merkel’s widely expected attempt to seek a fourth term in office at the federal elections in September 2017. After a string of electoral defeats attributed to Merkel’s initial ‘open door policy’, lower immigration figures are a key ingredient for calming the political climate to Merkel’s benefit.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/regional-elections-germany-deliver-gains-afd-weakening-merkel/))

Mutual recriminations and ‘terrorism’ charges

However, the ability of Merkel and her government to keep the boat steady and retain the status quo in its relations with Turkey seems to grow more limited by the day. Verbal mudslinging between the two administrations has returned to fever pitch after a German court refused to consider the defamation lawsuit Erdoğan had sought to bring against a German comedian, a case that had caused international uproar and profound embarrassment to the German government. ((http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/jan-boehmermann-erdogan-scheitert-mit-beschwerde-a-1116635.html))

Subsequently, in early November the Turkish President accused Germany of harbouring and supporting the terrorists of the Kurdish PKK, the left-wing DHKP-C and of the Islamist Gülen movement. At a public speech, he asserted that German support for terrorism would be eternally remembered. Erdoğan claimed that he had requested the extradition of 4,000 suspects linked to the July coup attempt without receiving an answer from the German government.((http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-11/recep-tayyip-erdogan-deutschland-terrorismus))

These allegations come after the publication of a German government memo in August in which Turkey had been accused of supporting terrorism. The memo asserted that Turkey had become a central actor in the networks of Islamist parties and radical movements across the Middle East. The memo thus made public the at least implicit accusation of the German government that President Erdogan actively supports the armed jihadist forces in Syria.((http://www.zeit.de/2016/36/terrorismus-tuerkei-islamisten-unterstutzung-vorwuerfe))

Demands for asylum of high-ranking anti-government figures

Moreover, antagonism will not cease any time soon: as German news sources revealed, following the July 15 coup attempt, a growing number of high-ranking Turkish diplomats have asked for asylum in Germany. By late October, there were 35 ongoing requests for asylum of Turks holding a diplomatic passport. Asylum-seekers appear to include the former military attaché at Turkey’s Berlin embassy.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-diplomaten-101.html, https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html))

Reportedly, the Turkish embassy itself had been the site of significant confrontations during and after the failed putsch: allegedly, pro-military forces had planned to seize control of the embassy on the night of the coup, leading pro-government staff members to barricade themselves in one of the building’s floors. Subsequent days seem to have witnessed significant altercations taking place in the embassy’s interior, as well as the recall of a number of staff members to Turkey.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html))

Unsurprisingly, Turkish authorities have already begun to pressure their German counterparts to extradite the 35 diplomats.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html)) Some German politicians demanded that their requests for asylum be approved quickly, given the prevailing climate of persecution in Turkey.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html)) So far, however, the BAMF has not taken any decisions. Such limbo is, in fact, the most desirable state of affairs for German authorities, since there is no appetite for an unpalatable choice between upholding legal principles and further antagonising a vital political partner.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-diplomaten-101.html)) For how long this balancing act is sustainable remains to be seen.