In a newspaper interview, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel comments on expulsions to Afghanistan and on relations with Turkey following the referendum. Published in the Kieler Nachrichten on 25 April 2017.
Last weekend, the Taliban killed 140 people in northern Afghanistan. This would support the decision taken by Torsten Albig, as head of the government of Schleswig-Holstein, not to expel anyone to that country. In your view, can expulsions to Afghanistan be justified, nevertheless?
Last year, we expelled only 67 people to Afghanistan. All of them were young, single men, and many of them had a criminal record. This decision, by the way, was not a political one, but was made by the German courts. At the same time, more than 3,200 Afghans returned to their home country willingly from Germany. Other countries expel more asylum seekers. Afghanistan is a dangerous place. Many regions are plagued by a civil war with the Taliban, and we should not expel anyone to those places. But there are other regions where this is feasible. It is ultimately not a political, but rather a judicial, decision. It will also be taken based on UNHCR reports and the Federal Foreign Office’s assessment of the situation.
But the UNHCR does not share your view...
That is not correct; what is happening is that passages are being taken out of context, due to the heated national political debate. Sometimes I do get upset about the fact that we are presenting so many black-and-white arguments in our debates. It is worth taking a look at the rest of Europe: Almost half of all refugees from Afghanistan are granted protection in our country. In the rest of Europe, far fewer applicants are granted asylum. Germany is one of the countries in Europe that expels the fewest asylum seekers. Even liberal Sweden takes a harder stance. The Afghan government is urging us to not give anyone the impression that we will accept all Afghans. For it is not the poorest, but rather the better educated and more well off, that are leaving. It is precisely these citizens that are needed to rebuild the country.
So don’t you wonder why Albig’s Land government has adopted this position?
No. What Torsten Albig and his government have done is, first of all, taken a very humane and brotherly stance. You will find this view represented in all political parties. I get many letters from my CDU colleagues, as well, who want to stop deportations to Afghanistan. I can understand very well the urge to completely halt all deportations to the country. But what I cannot do is turn a blind eye to the actual situation and refuse to hear the urgent appeals by the government of Afghanistan. If we were the only country to do so in Europe, then we would see all applications for asylum filed here in Germany. Let me put it another way. The number of voluntary returnees is many times that of the number of deportations. This shows that there are cities and regions to which people can and wish to return.
There is also controversy regarding what policy we should adopt vis-à-vis Turkey after the referendum. The CDU in Schleswig-Holstein is calling into question the system of dual nationality and making this part of its election campaign.
I think the CDU’s position on this issue is scandalous. Only a minority of those Turkish citizens in Germany who are eligible to vote cast their ballot for Mr Erdogan. Half of them, after all, did not even go to the polls. They simply did not want to be instrumentalised by domestic Turkish politics. They were not interested in what is happening in Turkey, but rather in what is important for their lives here in Germany. That is, after all, a good sign. Therefore a large majority did not support Mr Erdogan. It is completely unfair to interpret this behaviour at the polls as a lack of integration. That is precisely what the CDU is doing now, for the purpose of winning an election. What is more, by campaigning against dual nationality, the CDU is playing along with Mr Erdogan. What he wants to do is split the population back into Turkish and German groups. After all, we introduced dual nationality only for children born to foreign parents in Germany. This creates a bridge to Germany. Mr Erdogan is intent on tearing this bridge down, and the CDU is helping him do it. I haven’t experienced such an absurd situation for quite some time.
Do current developments in Turkey mean that EU membership will no longer be an option for the next ten years?
The truth is that Europeans currently do not see Turkey as a member, and Turkey does not seriously aspire to membership. However, the negotiations are one of the very few channels of communication we still have. That is why they should be pursued for as long as we don’t have a better alternative. I think it would be completely wrong to break off all talks. This is a demand we are hearing often right now. Not talking to one another has never helped.
What do you intend to do to help civil society in Turkey, given the difficult situation?
Erdogan is not Turkey. There’s always a day after. I would like to see, especially now, travel eased for those members of Turkish society who are important to us, that is, intellectuals, scientists, students, artists, authors, journalists and also businesspeople that are active in Germany and in Turkey. This would be a way of strengthening those who represent liberal thought and democratic culture in Turkey. So far, we’ve only been reacting to Mr Erdogan. It would be a way for us to take control of the situation.
Interview with Kristian Blasel.