Three women were fatally stabbed in the attack in the Bavarian city of Würzburg on Friday June 25, 2021. The attacker, a Somali migrant, was homeless and mentally ill | Photo: picture alliance
Three women were fatally stabbed in the attack in the Bavarian city of Würzburg on Friday June 25, 2021. The attacker, a Somali migrant, was homeless and mentally ill | Photo: picture alliance

The public debate in Germany on deporting violent or criminal migrants and refugees has been rekindled following the deadly knife attack in the city of Würzburg on June 25. However, the dimension of mental health issues and lack of access to psychological care is also being stressed following the deaths of three women in the attack.

A 24-year-old Somali man walked into a department store last Friday and stabbed three women to death before attacking various people outside. Several were wounded during the attack. 

The man had reportedly been receiving treatment for psychiatric problems at the time, although his exact motives for the violent attack remain unknown. In response to media enquiries, authorities said the suspect displayed "disturbed behavior with psychological abnormalities."

The suspect, who is currently being held in pretrial detention, has lived in Germany since 2015 and some have alleged he may have been motivated by Islamic extremism.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann made statements to that effect after the attack. The far-right AfD party has meanwhile organized various vigils to remember the victims while calling for the deportation of the perpetrator, and has even shared ads on social media, showing the arm of a person of color holding a knife.

In this tweet, they say that the knife attack in Würzburg "must have consequences," meaning the person who carried out the attack must suffer consequences for their actions. They say they have been calling for the possibility of returns for criminals within migration policy "for years." Additionally they call for tougher policing of external EU borders and moving the processing of asylum claims outside the EU too.

Asylum seekers and violence

And debate over these issues is not confined to the far-right AFD party. Mathias Middelberg, domestic policy spokesman for the center-right CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAZ) newspaper that speaking about the issues "must neither be hijacked for political purposes nor made taboo."

"We must not diminish our efforts, on the one hand, to integrate recognized refugees into the labor market and society and, on the other hand, to repatriate persons without the right of residence to their countries of origin," he added. According to the FAZ, Middleberg seemed to be suggesting that in broad terms Syrians, who tend to receive some kind of subsidiary protection, were not as violent as people from North Africa and Georgia who tended to have their asylum claims rejected. This was not backed up by figures in the article, nor was it made clear whether the alleged violence had any link to their asylum status.

Violent attacks by foreigners typically rekindle the public debate on deportation | Photo: Daniel Kuburski/picture-alliance
Violent attacks by foreigners typically rekindle the public debate on deportation | Photo: Daniel Kuburski/picture-alliance

Various psychological associations meanwhile said that the focus of various integration efforts, including psychological care, should not only focus on refugees and migrants who have good prospects of staying in Germany in the long term but also include those, whose chances are slim from the beginning.

It was also not clear whether Middelberg was stressing the fact that Islamist motivations aren't the leading cause of violent attacks among migrant populations in Germany — or whether he simply wanted to offer an alternative explanation.

Solidarity — where terms and conditions apply

As the exact motives for the attack are likely to only be uncovered during the trial, other politicians also made similarly vague statements. Ute Vogt, the domestic policy spokeswoman of the SPD parliamentary group, told the same newspaper that the threat of religious extremism, "especially in the form of Islamism, has never disappeared anyway." 

"It should probably be noted that psychological problems can also play a role. The psychological care given to refugees must therefore be put to the test," she added with regard to the crime that took place in Würzburg. Vogt also highlighted that cases in which people failed over a series of years to build a new life in Germany should also be examined more closely.

FDP leader Christian Lindner also demands a more measured and calculated immigration policy | Photo: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/picture-alliance/dpa/Zentralbild
FDP leader Christian Lindner also demands a more measured and calculated immigration policy | Photo: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/picture-alliance/dpa/Zentralbild

The leader of the FDP party Christian Lindner meanwhile told the Münchner Merkur regional newspaper that Germany needed to offer solidarity to politically persecuted people as "a humanitarian obligation."

"But those who are not qualified or ready for integration on the one hand, or who are also not persecuted on the other, cannot come or stay," he added quickly.

SPD changing course before elections

While politicians from the CDU/CSU bloc, as well as from the FDP, are known for weighing up the treatment of migrants and refugees more carefully, the left-of-center SPD has traditionally taken a more universal "Refugees Welcome" type of approach. 

But following the attack in Würzburg, Mathias Middelberg was not the only senior party politician who took to qualifying the party's position more clearly, as Germany is gearing up to hold general elections at the end of September.

Senior SPD politician Franziska Giffey has also since come out in favor of deporting migrants involved in serious crimes — even to countries like Afghanistan or Syria, where there are various stops on deportations in place. 

"I am very clear on this: serious criminals and terrorist threats must be deported," former Federal Family Minister Giffey told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "When people flee war and destruction, we have to help them," the politician stated while adding firmly that "anyone who commits serious crimes, who rapes or murders people, has simply forfeited their right to asylum." 

SPD politician Franziska Giffey's words come as a surprise from a senior party member, whose party has always taken a welcoming approach to migration | Photo: Dorothee Barth/dpa/picture-alliance
SPD politician Franziska Giffey's words come as a surprise from a senior party member, whose party has always taken a welcoming approach to migration | Photo: Dorothee Barth/dpa/picture-alliance

Attack did not occur 'out of the blue'

Giffey explained that "the protection of the population living here must be valued more highly than the protection of someone who tramples on the rights of others." Such cases, she cautioned, must be viewed "from the perspective of the victims."

In response to the Würzburg attack directly, Giffey highlighted her view that such incidents "never come out of the blue," but are "always the last link in a chain." 

"The signs of radicalization or of serious mental illness were either not seen or not addressed in this case," Giffey criticized. "We must not accept that. We must become more sensitive and react more quickly."

To deport or not to deport

Giffey's words, however, are not entirely in line with what the SPD has said to date with regard to deportations from Germany. A general ban on deportations to Syria expired at the beginning of the year, which means that authorities can once again consider deportations to the war-torn country in individual cases, especially when serious criminal and terrorist threats are involved. 

However, in the last six months since the ban on deportation to Syria expired, no one has yet been sent back there. The SPD interior policy also rejects this.

Protesters hold up anti-deportation signs at Munich's international airport on April 7, 2021 | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/S.Babbar
Protesters hold up anti-deportation signs at Munich's international airport on April 7, 2021 | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/S.Babbar

Deportations to certain parts of Afghanistan of failed asylum seekers, violent criminals and Islamist threats have already been part and parcel of Germany's asylum policy for several years — though there is growing criticism against the practice.

The security situation in the country has been escalating in recent years. With the impending withdrawal of international troops, it is feared another civil war could break out in the country, as the Taliban are vying to take control from the government.

Read more: Relocation of Afghan nationals who supported NATO troops: What you need to know

Among those critical of certain deportation practices is also the German Police Union (GdP), who issued a warned against taking a simplistic approach in the deportation debate after the events in Würzburg: "Germany cannot simply deport refugees with serious mental illnesses to their home countries," said the deputy head of the GdP Jörg Radek to the Funke Mediengruppe newspaper publisher. Instead of a "simple deportation debate," one must "take a closer look at refugee accommodation" and also pay attention to mental health issues there, he added.

with KNA, AFP, dpa

 

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