BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s interior minister came under pressure to resign on Wednesday after one of 69 Afghans deported last week as part of a tougher line on migration was reported to have committed suicide on his return home.
The man was sent back as the minister, Horst Seehofer, fought a campaign within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition to press for tighter restrictions on migrants.
Seehofer’s “Migration Masterplan”, which he launched on Tuesday and which would toughen border and immigration controls, is at odds with the open-doors policy Merkel announced at the height of the 2015 refugee crisis.
After Seehofer claimed credit for an increase in the pace of deportations of rejected asylum-seekers, exulting that 69 Afghans had left on his 69th birthday, an interior ministry official on Wednesday announced the suicide of one of them.
“We received confirmation from the Afghan authorities this morning that one of passengers on the repatriation flight was found dead in accommodation in Kabul,” the official told journalists.
“According to the Afghan authorities, it was a suicide,” the official added.
There was no immediate comment from Seehofer, who has repeatedly clashed with Merkel and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners in his drive to raise his Christian Social Union’s party profile and head off a far-right challenge in a regional election.
But Gyde Jensen, a lawmaker for the liberal Free Democrats and head of the parliamentary human rights committee demanded Seehofer’s dismissal.
“Anyone who celebrates 69 deportations for his 69th birthday is in the wrong job,” she said in a statement. “How many more derailments does the coalition need to dismiss the interior minister… The limit has been reached.”
Afghanistan said the 23-year-old failed asylum seeker had lived in Germany for eight years and was a minor when he came to Germany.
Some 17 years after the Taliban were ousted by a U.S.-led campaign following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, security is fragile across much of Afghanistan and hundreds of civilians have been killed in attacks this year in the capital Kabul as well as other cities.
Despite an intensive U.S. bombing campaign, aimed at forcing the Taliban to accept peace talks, the insurgents control wide stretches of the country.
Last year, after a bombing in the Afghan capital of Kabul killed at least 80 people, Merkel said Germany would deport to Afghanistan only criminals and people it considers a threat.
But Germany has recently abandoned those restrictions based on a new assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan, the interior ministry said.
Politicians from all parties apart from Merkel’s and Seehofer’s conservative alliance and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), who Seehofer is trying to outflank in the Bavarian regional vote, called for his resignation.
“His resignation is overdue. Hello coalition?!?” tweeted lawmaker Kevin Kuehnert, leader of the SPD’s youth wing.
Refugee rights organization Pro Asyl said 51 of the 69 deportees were booked on to the flight by the government of Bavaria, home to Seehofer’s CSU – the sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Seehofer is fighting to hang on to the CSU party chairmanship as the CSU sinks in the polls, 10 years after he became leader. Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder is his main rival.
Some in the CSU see robust language as an effective way of challenging the AfD, which is gaining on the CSU in polls ahead of October’s vote for a new Bavarian parliament.
Additional reporting by James Mackenzie in Kabul; Editing by Richard Balmforth