The offer is intended to supplement the existing program dubbed ‘StarthilfePlus,’ which provides help to those migrants who decide to voluntarily return home. Under the scheme, any participant over 12 years old withdrawing their application for asylum receives €1,200. Already-rejected asylum seekers who waive their right to appeal the decision in court are given €800, and children below the age of 12 get half the sum.
The new program, dubbed ‘Your country. Your future. Now!’ promises significantly more generous payouts to those who decide to return voluntarily. Families are eligible for up to €3,000 ($3,570) and individuals for up to €1,000 ($1,190) in addition to the payouts under ‘StarthilfePlus.’
The new offer, however, is time-limited and will last only until the end of February 2018. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere made use of an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper to promote the new program.
“There are opportunities in your homeland. We will support…your reintegration,” de Maiziere said, addressing the migrants directly. “When you voluntarily decide to return by the end of February, in addition to startup help you can provisionally receive housing cost help for the first 12 months in your homeland.”
The new incentive to leave comes as Germany is struggling with the consequences of Angela Merkel’s “open door” policy towards refugees and migrants flooding out of the Middle East and north Africa. Since 2015, over a million people have arrived in Germany and many are staying illegally, since deportations are difficult to enforce.
Some 300,000 asylum seekers had their applications rejected by Germany last year, spelling a surge in deportations compared to 80,000 in 2016. The government has now agreed to cap the number of refugees at 200,000, but authorities are likely to remain swamped with applications for years to come, according to an internal document leaked to media in October.
Frustration with Merkel’s incoherent migration policy has cost her party a big chunk of its popularity. The CDU/CSU alliance sunk to an all-time low at September’s parliamentary elections, while the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) surged, entering the parliament for the first time.
The newly-proposed assistance includes “benefits in kind, such as support for rental, construction or renovation works or the basic facilities for a kitchen or bathroom,” according to the Interior Ministry-run website promoting voluntary return programs. The exact mechanism of the support payments, however, remained unclear. Under the ‘StarthilfePlus’ program a migrant only receives half the money as a lump sum, while the rest is paid by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) over a course of six months upon arrival back home.
‘StarthilfePlus,’ launched back in February, was criticized by many charities and pro-refugee organizations as a blunt attempt to get rid of unwanted asylum seekers, and the new “limited-edition” proposal appears to be facing the same reception. The German refugee organization Pro Asyl slammed the program as a cynical measure.
“[The government] is trying to entice people to give up their rights in the basest manner,” managing director Günter Burkhardt told the German news agency DPA on Sunday, as quoted by Deutsche Welle.
While the new program appears quite generous, there is no doubt that for the German government court appeal and deportation processes are costly. The migrants, however, usually spend significantly more to get to Europe than they’re eligible to get on the way back. A migrant trip to Europe costs more than €7,000 on average, according to a survey by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).