The German government has mounted an aggressive campaign to encourage illegal migrants to leave - bribing them with free rent for a year in their home countries.
"Your country. Your future. Now!” read billboards in seven languages, plastered in nearly 2,500 locations across 80 German cities, reports the National Post.
A series of flags corresponding with the top-destinations – Egypt, Turkey, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Russia – shapes a zigzagging road to a fictional horizon.
The “ReturningfromGermany” ad campaign is the latest tactic by the German government to boost departures and deter migration, in a reversal of Angela Merkel’s controversial welcoming policy of 2015 at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. The campaign is the brainchild of interior minister Horst Seehofer, Merkel’s rebellious right-wing rival, who forced a coalition crisis over Germany’s asylum policy last summer. -National Post
As rejected asylum claims pile up - and arrivals have normalized since a flood of 700,000 migrants three years ago, the billboard campaign is aimed at the roughly 235,000 people who are still required to leave the country according to the interior ministry.
Most asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected can't return to their country of origin due for several reason; danger, lack of documentation or they suffer from an illness. The German government has dubbed these people "duldung," which means "tolerated."
Denied asylum seekers who don't fit either of those categories typically don't show up for their deportation. Of more than 20,000 scheduled airport repatriations in 2018, just half of them appeared to take flights back home.
Seehofer, the German interior minister, aims to encourage migrants to leave with the cash-giveaway billboard campaign - offering 1,000 - 1,200 euros for a single person and 3,000 for families to provide for basic needs.
Not everyone is a fan of the new "stepping stone system," in which "you get more money if you choose to leave earlier on," according to Meiki Riebau - a lawyer and migration expert at Save the Children Germany.
Riebau - who is not a fan of the campaign, says "It's a tasteless Christmas present."
Depending on their nationality, asylum seekers can receive 1,200 euros if they return before the asylum procedure is completed; which drops to 800 after a rejected claim. But the 800 still beckons if they decide to depart voluntarily within 30 days.
The backlash against the billboards and the campaign has swollen quickly. Many have been painted over with one-liners such as “All migrants welcome”. More than 30,000 people have signed the petition “Your future without Horst” in response – calling out their minister for bargaining an uncertain future at Christmas.
“It’s insensitive and a very bad deal: 1,000 euros will not make anyone go anywhere if they don’t have a future,” says petition founder Hannah Huebner. The billboards have also had an unintended side-effect: The ad doesn’t specify the target group clearly, causing irritation and confusion among Germany’s migrant population at large – currently estimated at 15 per cent. -National Post
"The Turkish flag on the poster is particularly difficult. Many Turks have been here for decades," said Huebner.
Perhaps the cash incentive will turn out to be more successful than Britain's approach when Prime Minister Theresa May had vans drive through neighborhoods with billboards reading "Go home or face arrest." Her initiative resulted in just 11 voluntary departures.