February 14, 2017 / 11:45 AM / 3 years ago

Tunisia PM, in Germany, dismisses criticism over asylum deportations

BERLIN (Reuters) - Tunisia’s prime minister, in Germany for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, rejected criticism on Tuesday that his country had been slow to take back failed asylum seekers from Europe, including Berlin Christmas market attacker Anis Amri.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed review the guard of honour at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Youssef Chahed also rejected the idea of Tunisia setting up its own asylum centres to ease the burden on Europe.

Shortcomings in the system were exposed in December by the failure to deport Tunisian Islamic State supporter Amri, who was on a watch list and had been denied asylum six months before he killed 12 people by driving a truck through the market.

In an interview in Bild, Chahed said cooperation with Germany on asylum seekers was functioning well.

“The biggest problem for Europe is refugees who go from Libya to Italy,” he said, adding that German authorities needed to provide the correct paperwork to be able to send back failed asylum seekers to Tunisia.

It was largely a delay in getting the right documents, including identity papers, that prevented Amri from being repatriated. He was shot dead by Italian police in Milan on Dec. 23.

“Illegal immigrants who use false papers sometimes make things difficult and prolong the process,” he said.

Asked about the possibility of Tunisia building refugee centres with European help, Chahed said:

“Tunisia is a very young democracy, I don’t think that it can function or that we have capacity to create refugee camps,” he said, adding that the main focus should be finding a solution with Libya.

Merkel has been weakened by her open-door migrant policy which allowed more than a million refugees into Germany in the last two years. She is now trying to show voters she is beefing up security and cracking down on illegal migrants before a national election due in September.

Merkel needs the cooperation of countries like Tunisia to speed up deportations. She also plans to give police greater powers to detain rejected asylum seekers seen as a terrorist threat and to set up ‘federal departure centres’ near airports to house rejected applicants ahead of their deportation.

Chahed visited the site of the December attack by Amri in western Berlin and laid flowers there.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Gareth Jones

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