Threat of prosecution for bringingshipwrecked Africans to EU

14th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

14 July 2004 , BERLIN - A German official Wednesday backed Italy's tough stance on a group of shipwrecked Africans and said the German aid agency which plucked them from the Mediterranean Sea may face prosecution for trying to smuggle illegal immigrants into the European Union. Interior Minister Otto Schily, who is known for his tough views on law and order, also attacked the Greens party which serves as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's junior coalition partner. Leading Greens members have called for

14 July 2004

BERLIN - A German official Wednesday backed Italy's tough stance on a group of shipwrecked Africans and said the German aid agency which plucked them from the Mediterranean Sea may face prosecution for trying to smuggle illegal immigrants into the European Union.

Interior Minister Otto Schily, who is known for his tough views on law and order, also attacked the Greens party which serves as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's junior coalition partner.

Leading Greens members have called for the 37 Africans to be given asylum in Germany.

A statement by Schily sharply rejected this and underlined that Germany was "not responsible" for sheltering refugees rescued by the group Cap Anamur, which is better known abroad as the "German Emergency Doctors Union."

According to German law, an asylum seeker must be on German territory before making an application to stay in the country.

Watering down these and other European Union rules would be "a dangerous precedent" which would encourage even more immigrants to seek to enter Europe via the Mediterranean, said Schily.

Schily rejected claims that the refugees came from war-torn, western Sudan.

"It appears that at least a majority of these people come from other African states where they do not face persecution," Schily said without elaborating. According to some reports, the refugees are from Ghana.

The minister indirectly backed Rome, which arrested both the captain of the ship and an officer as well as the head of Cap Anamur for questioning after the ship landed in Sicily, earlier this week.

"Should suspicions be confirmed that members of Cap Anamur and the ship's crew were involved in the smuggling of people, this would be a serious matter which could possibly also lead to prosecution by German authorities," Schily said.

Schily's hardline stance appears to be partly a reaction to German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul who on Tuesday demanded the immediate release of Cap Anamur head Elias Bierdel.

"We cannot allow Elias Bierdel to be punished because he wanted to help people who were in grave danger," said Wieczorek-Zeul, adding: "Humanitarian actions cannot be criminalized."

Wieczorek-Zeul is a leading left-winger in the Schroeder government and is nicknamed "Red Heide."

Thousands of immigrants reach Italy's coasts by boat illegally every year.

Germany was forced to sharply tighten it asylum laws in the 1990s after more than 400,000 applicants arrived in the country in a single year.

DPA

Subject: German news

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