Since August, the number of illegal entries to Germany has increased massively. More and more refugees are coming to us, especially via Switzerland. The neighboring country is becoming a loophole – and there is a crisis between Berlin and Bern. Can a new action plan help?

The news made waves in October: according to reports from the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRF), employees of the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) directed refugees from the Buchs train station in the canton of St. Gallen, which borders Austria, to specially reserved wagons in trains heading towards the German border. A spokesman for the St. Gallen canton police said at the time: “We formally allow onward travel.”

Internal messages from SBB employees became public, according to which “Afghan refugees were easy to manage”. The SBB distanced themselves from it, they only take the transport order, it said in explanation. But since then things have been bubbling between Bern and Berlin. And in Brussels, too, people are not very enthusiastic about the approach, which Switzerland officially denies. “Switzerland violates neither the Dublin Association Agreement nor the Aliens and Integration Act,” the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) said at the time.

On the other hand, there are the figures that the federal police are now presenting. Almost 10,000 illegal entries. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI), the border protection authority counted that much last year at the Swiss border alone, as a spokeswoman for the Ministry told FOCUS online on request. According to preliminary figures, the federal police counted exactly 9,900 illegal entries, and changes to the information from December are still possible.

There was also a clear increase nationwide over the course of the year, with the federal police counting 85,303 illegal entries throughout Germany by the beginning of December. From August, the numbers increased massively. In September there were 12,701, in October 13,167, in November 12,695. The figures for December are not yet available. However, a trend is becoming apparent: Compared to the previous year, the numbers have almost doubled. In 2021, the federal police counted a total of 57,637 illegal entries.

The focus is now particularly on the Swiss border. The federal police were able to prevent almost 2,000 illegal entries into Switzerland in November and December alone: ​​The German federal police have a foreign border post near Basel and can thus check people entering Germany beforehand. According to the information, 1950 people were prevented from traveling on to the Federal Republic in these two months. According to the BMI spokeswoman, most of the refugees and migrants came from Afghanistan, Syria, Burundi, Turkey and Tunisia.

In particular, the number of people entering Germany illegally via Switzerland has increased significantly in recent months. Switzerland has become a transit country for refugees who are often already registered in another member state of the Schengen area. If the refugees apply for asylum in another country, it is possible to return them to the country in which they first applied for asylum.

But many who enter Switzerland do not apply for asylum. Often they do not come directly from their countries of origin, but have been in other countries for a long time – for example in Turkey or in EU countries. But they don’t want to stay there.

This secondary migration is again becoming an increasing problem for EU countries, as it was before the pandemic, which temporarily slowed down development. In the meantime, however, the so-called Balkan route seems to be being used more – also because Italy is pursuing an increasingly restrictive refugee policy.

Some EU states saw another reason in Serbia’s liberal visa policy, which borders directly on the EU states Hungary and Croatia – the latter has also been part of the Schengen area since this year. Tunisians and Burundians in particular used the loophole to travel from there to Austria, Switzerland and Germany, but also to France. In November, under pressure from Brussels – the country is a candidate for EU membership – Serbia abolished visa waivers for the two countries.

In Switzerland, too, the number of illegal immigrants increased sharply in 2022. While a total of 18,859 illegal entries were registered in 2021, according to the State Secretariat for Migration there were already 46,099 between January and November 2022, i.e. more than 140 percent more (figures for December are not yet available).

In addition to the increase in illegal entries, the number of asylum applications in Germany also rose last year – by 24 percent compared to the same period last year: Between January and November 2022, 214,253 asylum applications were made, of which 189,998 were first-time applications. Ukrainian refugees are not taken into account – they receive a residence status via a special regulation that applies throughout the EU without having to apply for asylum.

Deportations are sometimes difficult. Due to the current situation in the country, refugees from Afghanistan have de facto not been deported since August 2021. Repatriations to Greece are also hardly possible for humanitarian reasons – the refugee accommodations there are often only tent cities, and the care for the refugees is not sufficient. A total of 11,970 people (without information on December) were deported from Germany to other countries last year, according to the BMI spokeswoman.

Last year (no information on December) 1,181 foreigners were returned from Switzerland to other countries – 283 of them to their home countries, 45 to a third country, but the vast majority of 853 were returned to an EU or Schengen country where they were already were registered as asylum seekers.

According to reports in the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ)” in January and October 2022, tens of thousands boarded the trains in the small Buchs train station and traveled via Zurich to Basel, not far from the German border According to the report, the police had given up sending Austria.

At the time, the SEM also pointed out that “the police and border authorities have no legal authority” to “detain people who have entered the country illegally after a check or give them instructions for their onward journey.” For the query in the so-called Dublin procedure whether an asylum application was already submitted elsewhere was asked, was two months time. This deadline would be met by Switzerland. However, a query cannot be made for “people who have already left”.

Berlin reacted to the reports, which were also picked up by the German media – and called on Switzerland to fulfill its obligations. In mid-December, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) and her Swiss counterpart agreed on an action plan. It includes, among other things, the strengthening of joint operations, cross-border searches and checks on trains.

But does that also work on the Swiss side? “Schengen law does not provide for any systematic identity checks,” says Daniel Bach, spokesman for the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), to FOCUS online. In fact, the Schengen area stands for the lifting of border controls. this must be reported to the EU, which did not happen in the case of Switzerland.

According to the SEM spokesman, if “persons who entered the country irregularly” were found, they would be handed over to the St. Gallen cantonal police by officials from the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security. “The canton is responsible for enforcing the legal measures relating to foreign nationals,” adds the spokesman.

A request from FOCUS online to the cantonal police there as to how illegal migrants are currently being dealt with and how many cases there have been recently remains unanswered. But another report from the “NZZ” shows that the officials are powerless. Although 17,000 people who entered the country illegally were apprehended from January to November, they are rarely returned – especially to Austria.

There is a repatriation agreement with Vienna, but it is expensive. And many, according to the “NZZ”, would soon be back at the Buchs train station in the few cases of successful returns to Austria.

So can the new action plan improve the situation? “A valid statement as to the extent to which the agreed measures will affect the irregular migration process on the German-Swiss border as a whole cannot currently be made – also due to a possible influence from weather changes,” says the BMI spokeswoman on request. It remains to be seen whether the agreement will have any effect.

But criticism is already being voiced in the opposition. The parliamentary director of the CDU-CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Thorsten Frei, tells FOCUS online: “The action plan alone will not achieve anything, which makes the massive criticism of the plan from the federal police clear.”

What he means: “There is now a cooperation agreement, but still no close-meshed controls. Those who want to go to Germany will also make it in the future. The border is still full of holes. ”In this country, too, there must be no permanent border controls in the Schengen area – there was an exception recently because of the pandemic, it must be reported to the EU and limited in time.

There is a lack of political will to change anything, says Frei. The traffic light coalition ignores the “big problems with illegal migration, which are becoming a burden for our social systems and the housing market,” he adds. “This is highly irresponsible.”

The Federal Ministry of the Interior sees things differently. When asked by FOCUS online, the Parliamentary State Secretary, Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter (SPD), said: “There are indications that Switzerland is not complying with the Dublin Regulation or that it is even actively supporting irregular onward travel from Switzerland to other European countries. are currently not available. Of course, we will investigate any valid indications of non-compliance with the applicable law.”