Smoke is seen in some areas in Damascus, Syria, on February 20, 2018. © Ammar Safarjalani / Global Look Press
A group of MPs from the far-right Alternative for Germany Party has come to Damascus to see the situation on the ground “firsthand.” The politicians are seeking evidence that refugees could be repatriated from Germany to Syria.
The group, consisting of six federal and regional MPs, arrived in the Syrian capital on Monday. They said their trip is a “private” one, even though it was discussed with the Alternative for Germany’s (AfD) co-chairs, Alexander Gauland und Joerg Meuthen, according to Der Spiegel weekly.
The German delegation includes four members of the German Bundestag (the Lower House of the German Parliament) and two regional MPs from North Rhine Westphalia. The MPs are expected to stay in Syria for about seven days and will visit Damascus as well as the cities of Homs and Aleppo.
The information they gather would particularly allow the MPs to “adequately assess” if Syria can be considered “safe” for the refugees to return there. “Experience that the MPs would get would allow [them] to make a rational assessment of the situation in Syria with regard to the ongoing discussion about its designation as a ‘safe country of origin’ as well as with regard to the decision on the moratorium on repatriation of failed asylum seekers,” the group said in a statement posted on Facebook before its departure.
The AfD capitalized on the refugee crisis by repeatedly criticizing Merkel for her ‘open door’ policy as Germany accepted the largest number of asylum seekers during the massive influx of refugees to Europe. The party is known for its harsh anti-Islam and anti-immigrant stance.
Back in November, the German MPs from AfD already came forward with an initiative to declare Syria a “safe country of origin.” They also urged the German government to sign an agreement with the Syrian President Bashar Assad, which would “promote the return of the Syrian refugees” to their homes. The motion was rejected by other MPs, who accused the AfD of “cynicism.”“By [submitting] such proposal, the AfD acts as a press service of Assad,” a member of the German Green Party, Luise Amtsberg, said at that time.
Germany has accepted hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers during the refugee crisis after the Chancellor Angela Merkel embraced the policy of “open doors.” Berlin also imposed a moratorium on repatriating failed asylum seekers to Syria back in 2012, arguing that it is not safe for them to return home.
Now, the group said it will visit education facilities in Syria as well as meet with the representatives of various “religious communities” as well as some Syrian officials. The MPs also said they had “nothing against” meeting with the Syrian President Bashar Assad personally. They did not specify, however, if such a meeting was on their agenda.
On Tuesday, the MPs met with the Syrian Grand Mufti Ahmed Hassun. According to Christian Blex, a regional MP from the German State of North Rhine Westphalia, who leads the group, he called on the Syrian refugees to return home. Earlier, they also met with some members of the Syrian parliament.
Blex also posted some photos from what he described as streets and a market in Damascus. He said that the group met “many open and friendly people,” adding that “everything is absolutely calm.”
Earlier, the MPs complained in their statement that the “German media coverage provides no sound way to assess the exact situation in Syria,” adding that their trip is aimed at “obtaining detailed information about the humanitarian situation and reconstruction efforts in Syrian regions, which were liberated from terrorists.”
In the meantime, the AfD continues to gain popularity at home. Despite being mired in numerous controversies, the far-right are now close to becoming the second most popular political party in Germany.