The fatal attack on a 14-year-old girl in Baden-Württemberg caused horror across the country. And the act, allegedly committed by an asylum seeker, has sparked debate. The Mayor of Tübingen, Palmer, set out his opinion on this in a Facebook post.
After the fatal attack on two schoolgirls in Illerkirchberg near Ulm, Baden-Württemberg’s Interior Minister Thomas Strobl (CDU) called for prudence. “This event must not be a reason or a justification for hate and hate speech,” said Strobl on Tuesday during a visit to the scene of the crime ” he continued.
One thing is clear: the crime is being discussed nationwide, and dealing with asylum seekers is back on the political agenda. The Mayor of Tübingen, Boris Palmer, also commented on the fact in a Facebook post. We document the politician’s contribution here:
“The death of a 14 year old is so horrible that sadness and compassion is right. Fast reflexes are wrong. This includes me when the AfD speaks of knife murderers under the protection of asylum law, as well as editorials that claim that it is completely irrelevant whether the perpetrator was an asylum seeker.
However, it would be necessary for this country to openly and honestly analyze the question of whether there is a pattern behind the deadly attacks on defenseless people in recent years. This case must then be investigated. I wrote a chapter on this in my book “We can’t help everyone” back in 2017. And since then there have been many more similar cases. A year ago, I happened to be in Würzburg on the day an asylum seeker randomly stabbed women in the city center.
Even assuming that all of these acts are committed by mentally ill people, the question of protective mechanisms remains relevant: murder is murder. What to do if helpers are killed
In October 2016 something horrible happened in Freiburg. A 19-year-old student, who, like every day, thousands of young people were cycling along the Dreisam, was raped and murdered. A crime that unfortunately happens every month in one way or another – in Germany, an average of around 20 sexual murders per year have been registered in recent years. The dismay and sympathy on site is always great. But rarely does a sexual murder make national headlines.
In the Freiburg case, that changed abruptly when the police presented a suspect seven weeks after the murder. In administrative language, it was an “unaccompanied minor refugee” (umF, or umA, unaccompanied minor foreigner). After the events of New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne and the ax attack by a 17-year-old refugee from Afghanistan on people in a regional train near Würzburg, this group was already under special public scrutiny.
So now again an alleged 17-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan as a suspect, convicted by DNA traces. The student’s death received additional attention because, not untypically for Freiburg, she had volunteered as a refugee helper. A story that Sophocles could not have painted more tragically.
The resulting debate was the top topic in all media for a week. No talk show got past it. The focus was not on the murder itself, sad as that is, but on what it means that the killer was an unaccompanied minor refugee.
As is so often the case, the shrillest sounds initially received the most attention. The AfD assigned the Chancellor “an indirect responsibility” for the death of the student. An absurd logic, according to which Daimler boss Zetsche bears an indirect share of responsibility for every dead cyclist who was run over by a Mercedes. Stretching the concept of responsibility so far makes everyone responsible for everything and ultimately creates total irresponsibility.
In the face of such brazen accusations, which probably aim primarily to position the authors in public, the demand not to instrumentalize the death of a person for political purposes is justified. In many cases, however, this appeal was also used in a way that served the purpose of preventing a debate about possible consequences of the tragic event from arising in the first place. “Murder is murder, no matter where the perpetrator is from. The act is morally no more reprehensible if the murderer is an asylum seeker.” This or something similar was often argued.
No doubt it is. Murder is the worst of crimes in any legal system. An increase is at best the mass murder. Murder is inherently reprehensible. And yet it makes a difference where the perpetrator comes from. The moral philosopher Immanuel Kant formulated this in his essay on eternal peace. In the third definitive article, he describes a hospitality right that anyone anywhere in the world can claim because the surface of the world is limited and we have to share it. However, this guest right is linked to the guest behaving peacefully, i.e. law-abiding. Hostile treatment towards a peaceful guest is inadmissible.
A guest – in Kant’s definition that would also be an asylum seeker – who kills a person is not only guilty of murder, he is also infringing on guest rights. The latter is by definition impossible for a native. And this is more than a philosophical aside, it has serious implications. Such a serious abuse of the right of hospitality calls the right of hospitality itself into question, because the hosts inevitably have to consider whether they want to continue to bear the risk of accepting guests. Anyone who becomes a murderer as a guest reduces the chances of others being accepted as a guest.
This is what happened in Germany after the violent acts of refugees in 2016.
It is always wrong to lump everyone together. It is only a very small minority of asylum seekers who resort to violence. A general suspicion against asylum seekers or even all foreigners is inhumane and destroys the foundations of a pluralistic society. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to pay particular attention to violence by asylum seekers, to research its causes and to take specific countermeasures, from prevention to criminal prosecution.
We don’t have to expect asylum seekers to behave more law-abiding than German citizens. But we can. And that opinions differ on this point is normal in an open society. There were impressive statements from refugee helpers who said after the murder in Freiburg that they would not think twice about reducing their commitment.
Nevertheless, we should also allow people to say that they cannot accept that people who come here and claim that they are on the run become murderers in a very short time. One is not naive, the other is not malicious. Both are human reactions.
What everyone can probably agree on is that the state should do everything possible to prevent such murders. When the suspicion became known in Freiburg, there seemed to be no need for action at first. The suspect was placed with a foster family very soon after his arrival in autumn 2015, a particularly favorable circumstance that is often not the case. He had started training at a vocational school. He had optimal starting conditions in Germany. These circumstances left many at a loss: What else should we have done?
However, investigators soon uncovered facts that put the case in a completely different light. The suspect pushed a woman off a cliff on the island of Corfu in Greece in 2013 and seriously injured her. For this he was sentenced to ten years in prison, of which he only served one year before being conditionally released. A little later, in autumn 2015, he applied for asylum in Freiburg.
He didn’t bring any identification documents with him. The Greek authorities had not entered any information about the man into the European data network, and the German authorities did not notice anything themselves. A medical report for the trial in Freiburg revealed that the suspect was at least 22 years old at the time of the murder, and by no means 17, as he himself stated. This is also supported by the fact that he would otherwise have been just 14 years old at the time of his first violent crime in Corfu and alone fleeing Afghanistan. Not a very likely scenario.
First the facts, then the moral!: Why politics must begin with reality
From these findings, the consequences of the Freiburg murder case for dealing with asylum seekers do indeed arise. It is unbelievable that violent criminals in Europe can be released after a short period of imprisonment and become murderers in another European country. Clearly, there is an urgent need to improve cooperation between European authorities on this point.
We probably can’t avoid realizing that it affects us when a European country cuts back on its government under the burden of its debt and therefore cuts back on prisons.
But we also need to improve identity verification in our own country. For the unaccompanied minor refugees, we rightly make a lot more effort than for adult refugees. They receive educational support, accommodation in residential groups or with foster families, training and language courses. You can also see that from the costs, which are around 40,000 euros per year for each “umF”.
These advantages are so great and the controls so weak that there is a significant incentive for young men in their twenties to look a few years younger and perhaps even change their nationality. A doctor friend of mine told me that he also allegedly treated underage refugees in Tübingen, whose age he would estimate to be 27 rather than 17. Nothing is being done about it. And in view of the grotesque story of the Bundeswehr soldier Franco A., who managed to pass himself off as a Syrian refugee without speaking a word of Arabic, such observations no longer seem particularly surprising.
The perpetrator from Freiburg slipped through a gap that is much larger and must not stay that way. We should better check the identity of unaccompanied minor refugees through medical reports and analysis of origin, for example through interpreters and dialect analysis. As right as our preferential treatment for unaccompanied minor refugees is, it is wrong to grant the status of this refugee group essentially on the basis of good faith.
The legislator has already drawn the first conclusions for the search for suspects.
In the past, it was not allowed to draw conclusions about external characteristics such as hair color from genetic analysis. The police had clearly criticized this after the murder in Freiburg, because such data clearly narrows down the circle of perpetrators and thus both facilitates the search and saves many innocent people an unpleasant procedure. In the future, this analysis of DNA traces will be allowed in capital crimes. I think that’s right and it can even have a preventive effect if perpetrators know that it’s easier to track them down this way.
Asylum seekers who have committed serious crimes have often concealed their identities. That was the case in the Freiburg murder case, but also in the terrorist attack on the Berlin Christmas market. It follows that there is a security risk that in autumn 2015 so many people came to Germany without papers and without checking their identity. A sensible consequence would be to carry out this identity check for all asylum seekers who entered the country without papers. A demand that the Green top candidate Katrin Göring-Eckardt rightly raised.
For the future we have to adapt our asylum procedure in such a way that there are disadvantages and no advantages for arriving without papers. There will always be cases in which people actually flee head over heels or throw away their identity documents to protect themselves. Surprisingly, the competent federal office does not have any statistics on the proportion of refugees who enter the country without documents – estimates by the federal police that this applies to two thirds of all applicants make it very clear that this is also based on a comprehensible calculation.
Without papers, the chances of staying are simply better for many. Understandably, almost no refugee can do without a mobile phone. Therefore, almost all of them manage to keep their smartphone with them throughout the journey. This speaks against the fact that the papers disappeared on the way. For this reason it is correct that in the future access to the data of a smartphone should be permitted if it is no longer possible to establish an identity in any other way.
Of course, such and other measures cannot offer reliable protection against terrorists and common murderers. However, the state is negligent if it fails to take such steps to protect its citizens. Since we had to learn painfully that asylum seekers can also pose a risk to life and limb, we have an obligation to improve security precautions. This is especially true if one takes the view that such measures had to be dispensed with in the emergency situation of autumn 2015 because the authorities were not in a position to implement them.
On the other hand, I see no reason to change anything in the legal situation in criminal law.
Of course, every murderer, regardless of their origin or status, must be severely punished. According to our current law, this can also mean excluding him from our community and, after he has served his sentence, usually halfway through, being deported to his country of origin. The sentence applies to a murderer, criminals have forfeited their right of hospitality. I believe that deportation to Afghanistan would be considered justified by most people for the Freiburg killer at the end of his sentence.
The situation is different if the perpetrator comes from a country that is at war. Like in Syria for example. There is a far-reaching consensus that we do not send people to their deaths and therefore do not even deport murderers to such states. The discussion about what the appropriate reaction was in such cases was sparked by a sensational murder in Tübingen’s neighboring town of Reutlingen.
There in the city center in autumn 2016, a 22-year-old asylum seeker killed a woman with whom he had had sexual contact with a doner kebab knife, almost beheading her. On the run, he threatened several passers-by with the 60cm long blade until he was hit by a car and stopped. The suspect is of Syrian origin and had only been in the country for a year at the time of the crime.
After this case, a reporter from the Stuttgarter Zeitung asked me in August 2016 how one should deal with violent young people. I replied that there are behaviors that lead to forfeiting one’s right of residence. The reporter inquired and got the answer from me that a Syrian could of course only be deported to Syria. She then objected: “To Syria, that would be life-threatening. I replied: There are also areas in Syria that are not at war. How do I explain to a victim’s family that the perpetrator is still in the country even though he was so aggressive? The answer “It’s unsafe in Syria” is not very satisfactory.
In the summer slump it became a nationwide message with the headline: “Green politician Palmer also wants to deport to Syria”. That rightly caused outrage, because the reports no longer differentiated between innocent people and criminals. I too would describe the deportation of an innocent asylum seeker from Syria as inhumane. It would also be unlawful, because almost without exception, asylum seekers from Syria receive a protection status from us, so they can stay in the country legally. But other standards apply to violent criminals and murderers. Our national chairwoman Simone Peter described my statement as “classic Palmer nonsense”, my state chairmen as “irresponsible and cynical”. The criticism gave the impression that I wanted to change the law for deportations to war zones, which violate international law.
None of this applies. What I said does not contain a requirement, it only describes the legal situation. Article 33 of the Geneva Refugee Convention regulates the so-called ban on refoulement as follows:
None of the Contracting States will in any way expel or turn back a refugee across the borders of areas where his life or liberty is restricted on account of his race, religion, nationality. would be threatened because of his membership of a particular social group or because of his political opinions.
However, a refugee who, for serious reasons, is to be regarded as a danger to the security of the country in which he is or who constitutes a danger to the general public of that state, because he has committed a crime, cannot claim the benefit of this provision or has been convicted of a particularly serious offence.
This means that even the Geneva Refugee Convention in Kant’s sense assumes that a right of hospitality is forfeited by serious crimes. It even expressly regulates that a criminal can also be rejected, i.e. deported, if this would endanger his life or his freedom. The term “territory” is deliberately used, not “state”.
This should allow the contracting states to reject refugees if only parts of their country of origin are a safe area. A regulation that, in the case of Afghanistan, also serves as a justification for deportations for unscrupulous but rejected asylum seekers. My formulation that there are also areas in Syria that are not at war, and deportation of a criminal there could be considered, does not even exhaust the scope of the Geneva Refugee Convention. Because this would even allow deportation to the actual war zones.
When I publicly drew attention to this fact in the debate, political scientists confirmed that my statement was correct, but that didn’t change anything about the shitstorm. And with many political interlocutors I found that although they cited the Refugee Convention as an argument, they at least had never read the relevant article. We regard the Geneva Convention as a kind of bible for refugees. The fact that the text of the treaty also contains such hardships for good reason has been practically lost in the collective consciousness and is hardly ever applied in Germany due to a misunderstood humanity.
As recently as June 2017, this was shown by a sensational case of an Afghan asylum seeker who stabbed a five-year-old child. The man had served a six-year sentence for setting fire to an apartment and trying to blame his cousin for the crime. The deportation after his release failed because he converted to Christianity and now said he was in danger in Afghanistan. A court agreed with him and issued a deportation ban.
I no longer consider this legal practice to be viable. A society that wants to be as open to help as Germany cannot stand it in the long run if such cases become more frequent. In order to protect those in need of help, violent criminals are not allowed to invoke the right to asylum or even Christianity in order to be able to commit violent crimes in our country.
The Geneva Refugee Convention strengthens the state’s monopoly on the use of force with the unconditional right of refusal for criminals. It is one of the most important tasks of the state to protect the people who confide in it. Which instruments are appropriate for this purpose in which context is a difficult question to weigh up.
However, it cannot be denied that a potential threat of violence from individual refugees represents a qualitatively different problem for the cohesion of our society than one from nationals with a solid right of residence. The fact that tolerance towards the former is lower not only corresponds to the majority opinion in the population. It is also ethically justifiable. Because there is no moral right to help without the simultaneous obligation to respect the person helping.
Rejecting a help-seeker who lacks a modicum of respect for the helper is a necessary line of demarcation that self-respect dictates in all social contexts. Our state must also demonstrate this self-respect if it wants to justify the trust that its citizens place in it over the long term.”