Migrants look to UK as Germany toughens laws - and warn that people smuggling could increase

Ahmed is on the move.

From a sun-bleached phone screen, he explains he's running from Germany after being threatened with deportation.

His target destination: the UK.

"I want to go to the UK because I'm afraid of the deportation in Germany. Already they try to deport me and that's why I left," he says in a video message.

It's hurriedly recorded somewhere on the coast of northern France.

In a few hours, he expects to get the signal from smugglers that they will try to cross the channel in a dinghy.

It's his second attempt in just a few days.

His first attempt failed after French police caught the group trying to pick up more passengers and slashed their dinghy.

Ahmed is one of a number of Iraqi Kurds Sky News teams have met recently who've paid smugglers to get to the UK after Germany toughened its deportation rules.

Rishi Sunak's Illegal Migration Act, which created powers to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, hasn't put them off.

"I'm not afraid about Rwanda or even about crossing the water because I'm looking for a better place to live," Ahmed says. "I'm very sure if the deportation doesn't stop in Germany, all the refugees in Germany will cross the border to UK."

Asylum applications in Germany rocketed to their highest rate since 2016 last year as more the 351,000 people arrived - around four times the amount coming to the UK.

In an attempt to reduce illegal migration, the German government announced tougher laws.

The new measures include faster decisions on asylum applications, restricted benefits and speedier deportations.

Authorities also have more powers when conducting searches and can hold people for up to 28 days ahead of return flights.

Deportations are up around a third on the same period last year with more than 6,300 people deported between January and April, according to official statistics.

Outside the Iraqi embassy in Berlin, we meet a group of protestors who say they're already feeling the effects of the new laws.

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Many have lived in Germany for years, some given temporary leave to remain, but have recently been told Iraq is safe to return to and it's time to leave.

"Some of my friends have been deported. The police raided the house at two or three in the morning," Goran tells me.

He says he's noticed a rise in people having their asylum claims rejected.

"I'm scared and can't sleep in my own home," he says.

He shows me a card which registers him as severely disabled with the Germany authorities.

Both his legs have been amputated and he says he can't live in Iraq.

I ask if he thinks people will flee to other countries such as France and the UK if deportations keep on rising.

"For sure, smuggling will increase," he replies. "People who feel their lives are politically threatened back in Iraq will try any way possible to reach another country."

Another lady shows us the medicine she relies on, which she says is hard to get in Iraq.

"They know that my country is not safe," she says. "I own videos of the killings, robbery and kidnapping of women."

The group holds up pictures of people they say are victims of deportation - a man injured as he tried to flee, and another they claim died at sea on a smuggler's boat.

The German government says the deportations are in line with international law.

A spokesperson from the interior ministry said in a statement: "The Act to Improve Repatriation, which came into force on 27 February 2024, contains numerous and extensive improvements in order to be able to enforce an obligation to leave the country even more effectively in future.

"Co-operation with Iraq takes place in a so-called non-contractual procedure in accordance with the principle of international law, according to which every state is obliged to take back its own citizens informally if they have no right of residence in the host country."

In a kitchen in southern Germany, we listen as our phone call to Kurdistan rings.

A young man answers.

Hama, not his real name, tells us he was deported to Iraq at the end of April.

He explains there were 25 immigrants on his deportation flight and 90 officers guarding them.

He claims his life is at risk in Kurdistan so he is in now in hiding.

"How did you feel on the flight home?" I ask.

"Very, very bad," he says. "It's not safe, I cannot go outside."

Hama is now indefinitely separated from his wife Shaida, who is Iranian and was given asylum in Germany.

Time ran out before they could gather the paperwork to prove they were legally married.

Shaida is devastated.

"We didn't sleep for 10 days. It's very hard to see him like this because I feel like they took something from us," she says.

"Germany, how can they say they are a democratic country? My husband didn't do anything wrong. He was on a course learning German and he was working."

Following the 2015 migrant crisis, Germany's then chancellor Angela Merkel announced an "open door policy" and took in more than a million refugees fleeing war in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

She defended the decision, saying it was an "extraordinary situation", but the migration policy outraged some voters and led to a surge in support for the far-right Alternative for Germany.

The policy was later abandoned but Germany remains one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the world.

Faced with surging asylum applications last year, the current Chancellor Olaf Scholz agreed an "historic" stricter migration policy.

The chancellor is now under pressure to do more following the recent gains by the far right in the EU elections.

German state leaders have demanded he makes "proposals for effective control" ahead of a meeting on Thursday.

This month, after a police officer died following an attack by a failed asylum seeker, he pledged to tighten rules so the glorification of terrorist offences can be sufficient grounds for deportation.

He also said the government was working on ways to deport criminals and dangerous migrants back to countries such as Afghanistan and Syria.

I ask Shaida if she agrees when politicians say nations have to have a limit and can't grant every asylum application they receive.

"I accept what you're saying but Germany doesn't know how to do it fairly," she replies.

Shaida shows me pictures of herself in her wedding dress standing by her husband in the German countryside.

It could be years before the man she loves is allowed to return.

Germany's open door period is a distant memory.

As for Ahmed - he's now in the UK.

After several failed attempts, including one when the French police cleared the beach with tear gas, he managed to slip away on a dinghy and into British waters.