Afghan seeks church asylum to avoid deportation from Germany

Sophie Rohrmeier and Friederike Heine –
Hasib Afzali, a 22-year-old from Afghanistan’s Kapisa province, thought he had found refuge in Germany.
Though his asylum request had been denied, he was granted tolerated residence status, allowing him to find employment on a Munich construction site.
His new life was interrupted late last year, when he was informed by the authorities that he was to leave the country as part of a new forced deportation scheme.
In order to avoid being detained for deportation to Kabul, Hafzali took refuge in a church parish in the Bavarian town of Hassfurt.
“I just couldn’t go back to Afghanistan,” says Afzali after recounting his escape from a violent family and restive conditions in his home province. In 2008 at the age of 14, he embarked on a two-year journey to Europe via Iran, Turkey and Greece.
“Before Christmas, the main thing was to ensure his safety,” says Doris Otminghaus, the pastor who has welcomed Afzali into her home.
Though church sanctuary is not recognised under German law, religious tradition in the country means that no police officer will venture onto church property to detain a refugee.
Thirty-four other failed Afghan asylum seekers were not as lucky as Afzali. They were transported — some involuntarily — to Frankfurt on December 14, where they boarded a plane to Kabul.
The group was the first to arrive back in Afghanistan after a new agreement was made between the German government and Kabul in October to facilitate deportations.
Around one million refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere arrived in Germany in 2015, raising a heated debate about migration policies and boosting support for anti-immigrant groups.
Afghans were the second-largest group to seek asylum in Germany after Syrians that year.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in October that the group deportations were supposed to send a signal to Afghans that Germany only accepts a small number of asylum bids from their country.
Though de Maiziere has acknowledged that Afghanistan cannot be considered a safe country of origin, his government argues that parts of the country — including Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e Sharif — are safe enough to return to.— dpa