CAIRO (AP) — Germany deported a group of Egyptians to Cairo over violations of residency requirements, including those whose asylum requests were rejected, Egyptian airport officials said Thursday.
The Egyptians say that 100 of their countrymen were sent home, nine of whom had been held in custody and were delivered without passports. Germany's Interior Ministry however only acknowledged nine deportations. The discrepancy between the two figures could not immediately be reconciled, although the larger number would constitute the first action of such magnitude toward Egypt from Berlin.
Germany seeks to enact a sharper migration policy after accepting over a million refugees between 2015 and 2016, mostly from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The hospitality triggered a populist backlash that has driven support of far-right politicians.
The deportees landed in Cairo on Wednesday on a flight from Frankfurt that included a robust security detail of 50 German officers, who returned after handing over the Egyptians to authorities at Cairo's international airport, the Egyptian officials said.
German officials say the returnees were accompanied by 38 other officials, including police, doctors and interpreters, not 50 police.
Police investigated the individuals and the circumstances surrounding their deportations, including whether any had warrants issued for their arrest. All were later released and allowed to enter the country, the airport officials said.
Human rights organizations often oppose deportations to Egypt over concerns those returning may face harsh treatment by authorities, who have a long history of abuses, including extensively documented cases of torture.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to reporters, said the flight full of deportees was a first for Germany, although they noted that Italy had also organized a similar deportation in the past.
Germany's Interior Ministry also gave its comments via a spokesman but anonymously, in line with department policy.
Many Germans welcomed migrants with open arms during the surge, but attacks against migrants and sometimes against their supporters also rose sharply.
The issue was a key theme of last year's election, which saw the rise of the nationalist AfD party, and was one of the biggest stumbling blocks in forming a coalition between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats.
Germany's new government, which will be sworn in next week, has vowed to continue pushing for voluntary returns of migrants and enforce deportations of rejected asylum seekers, who until now have often remained in Germany in legal limbo.
Compared with many other European countries, Germany has generous asylum laws. They are enshrined in the German constitution in reaction to the Nazi period, when many people fleeing the country survived only because they were able to get asylum in other countries.
The recent influx of mostly young, male migrants into Germany has led to an increase in violent crime in the country, a government-funded study has shown, adding to the ongoing debate about how to tackle migrant crime, which has been fanned by a number of high-profile incidents.
Parties on the right, including Merkel's Union bloc, want a tough response and more deportations, while those on the left say more needs to be done to integrate refugees into German society.