Human rights advocates are pressuring Germany to more carefully consider asylum applications from the Maghreb, particularly for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
Earlier this month German newspapers reported that Amnesty International and other human rights groups are asking the country’s interior minister to reject the designation of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as “safe countries of origin” with regard to asylum seekers. The pressure comes in response to the German government’s consideration of several draft laws designed to tighten the country’s criteria for asylum more generally.
Human right activists have focused their opposition to the laws on the criminalization of homosexuality in Maghreb countries, which they say is evidence that a path to asylum needs to remain open for LGBT individuals hailing from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. As several German papers have pointed out, homosexual acts are punished by law in all three countries, with two men in Morocco reportedly facing a prison sentence of three years for having shared a kiss in front of a mosque in Rabat. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière recently conceded that three states have “shortcomings in terms of human rights.”
But human rights advocates also say that no country should get a blanket designation of safe when it comes to asylum. “Refugee status determination is a process based on individual circumstances,” Magda Mughrabi of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program told Tunisia Live. “No country of origin can be labelled as ‘safe’ in general terms.”
Mughrabi also pointed out via Amnesty’s official policy on refugees that the designation “safe country of origin” can lead to nationality-based discrimination against asylum seekers, which would violate the Geneva Conventions.
Tunisia LGBT-rights groups say Germany’s position with regard to Maghrebi asylum seekers is particularly dangerous for their members. “Putting countries like Tunisia on the list of ‘safe countries of origin’ prevents multiple asylum seekers from having a protection that they can’t have in Tunisia,” said the cofounder of the LGBT-rights group Mawjoudin, who goes by the initials S.B. “The number of attacks based on the victim’s sexual orientation keeps rising. Arrests and prison sentences are more and more common.”
This month has seen a wave of homophobic rhetoric in Tunisia with numerous shopkeepers and taxis posting signs refusing service to LGBT individuals and with violent homophobic messages being posted to social media. The rise in intensity of anti-LGBT sentiment comes after the homophobic comments of actor Ahmed Landolsi on Tunisian television channel Al Hiwar Ettounsi.
But homosexuality is also against the law in Tunisia. Article 230 of the penal code, which is the main target of groups like Mawjoudin, criminalizes homosexual sex between consenting adults. The determination that an accused individual has participated in a homosexual act is often made using a forced anal examination that human rights groups have called “medically worthless” and likened to torture.
“Tunisia must abolish article 230 and must protect all citizens without any form of discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation,” S.B. told Tunisia Live. “The reports from Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, the testimony of the young people from Kairouan [recently prosecuted under article 230], the attacks, the young people who get kicked out of their homes when their parents discover their homosexuality: All this is proof that having a ‘different’ sexual orientation or identity is dangerous in Tunisia.”
The pressure on Germany to change the designation of Tunisia and its neighbors comes just weeks after the largest ever deportation to a Maghrebi country, when German authorities sent home 24 Tunisian asylum seekers earlier this month. At the time, German press reported that many of the deportees had a criminal record, and there was no indication of whether any of the asylum claims were based on an LGBT identity. The event followed a series of agreements made in March between Germany and Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria to make the deportation process easier.
Some German press outlets have asserted that the country’s proposed designation of North African countries as safe has already led to a decrease in migration. Debates on the draft laws began early this year, and the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine reported this morning that the number of refugee entries originating from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco dropped from 3,356 individuals in January to only 599 in February and 480 in March.
Demonstrations have been taking place in Germany since February against the asylum law being considered by the government. Activists have called it “racist” and “aggressively” anti-refugee.