Departure lounge: When hopes for German asylum end at the airport

Cargo City South, a transit zone on the grounds of Frankfurt Airport, is home to a major European logistics hub and a handful of failed asylum seekers awaiting deportation.

Officials stress that the two-storey migrant accommodation there is not a prison, but the nine residents are not allowed to leave, having been denied entry to the country.

Those who flee from a country deemed by the German government to be safe - such as the Western Balkan states, Ghana or Senegal - can expect a decision on their claim for asylum within two days. This also applies to people who arrive without valid identification.

But the fast-tracked procedure can result in decisions that many migrants claim do not acknowledge the peril they face if returned home.

"We all have big problems in our countries," a 45-year-old from Cameroon says. "They wanted to kill me."

He explains that the young man next to him has already been sent back to his home country of Angola once before. "With lots of police," The Cameroonian adds, while the man in question crosses his arms and legs to demonstrate how he was taken onto a plane in cuffs.

Six hundred and twenty-seven asylum seekers went through the so-called airport procedure last year, according to Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), with Frankfurt Airport, Germany's biggest, the main point of arrival.

Of those 627, 549 were allowed entry to Germany, with the summary proceedings proving too short for authorities to come to a conclusive decision on the applicant's right to asylum.

Seventy-four of the applications were rejected in that two-day period on the grounds that they were "manifestly unfounded," leading to 72 appeals, of which just two were upheld.

The failed asylum seekers' length of stay in transit accommodation depends on how long it takes the federal police to arrange the necessary paperwork for their return, says Michael Duchardt, who runs the home at Frankfurt Airport.

Until then, Duchardt says it is his job running the home and as a social worker to make the migrants' stay as comfortable as possible.

The accelerated decision-making process at Germany's airports can lead to "gross errors of judgement," says Olivia Reckmann of Catholic aid group Caritas.

"Without the commitment of churches, lawyers and [advocacy group] Pro Asyl, people would be sent back again and again to situations that put their lives in danger," she adds.

Pro Asyl gives one Afghan man's case as a recent example. Despite having been singled out by the Taliban as a target in his home country, his asylum claim in Germany never made it past the airport.

"It took the work of three lawyers assigned by Pro Asyl, a fair amount of research and one constitutional complaint filed at the Federal Constitutional Court in order to avert the imminent threat of deportation," says Bernd Mesovic, a spokesman for the group.

But not everyone can count on having that kind of support.

Those living in the accommodation at Cargo City South have access to a football pitch, a fitness studio and a basketball court. There is a telephone for making calls both inland and abroad and a television room with a selection of DVDs to pass the time.

One boy plays table football with a security guard at the facility. He comes from somewhere in Africa; officials have not been able to discern his exact country of origin. He says he's 17 years old, which - if true - makes him another applicant failed by the system

"Unaccompanied, foreign minors are allowed entry," says Manfred Becker, a local government official in charge of social work.

But judging the age of undocumented young asylum seekers is a guessing game. Each potential minor is interviewed by two youth welfare officers and, after the conversation, it is up to them to decide whether that person is of age or not, a task which Caritas' Reckmann calls "impossible."

In many cases, minors act very mature for their age. Youngsters who find themselves fleeing war, persecution and misery "cannot afford to be a child," Reckmann says.

Last update: Fri, 22/07/2016 - 14:58

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