FECL 57 (March 1999):


In Germany's border region with Poland, ever greater numbers of taxi drivers are facing charges for "abetting illegal entry of aliens". Criminal proceedings against cab drivers have significantly increased following the introduction, four years ago, of a paragraph 92a into the German Foreigners Law.

The new provision makes "abetting" of illegal entry and illegal stay of aliens punishable offences. The new rules have triggered an avalanche of trials that have affected in the first instance cab drivers operating in the German Polish border area. More than hundred criminal investigations against cab drivers have been opened. In the small town of Zittau, situated at the most southeastern point of the Land of Saxony, every third taxi driver is under investigation.

The taxi drivers are charged with "smuggling aliens", on the grounds that they transported "illegal aliens" to destinations in the interior of Germany.

Those charged claim that they were unaware of their passengers' status, but judges do not seem to be inclined to believe them. Courts have given prison sentences of up to two and a half years, and four taxi drivers are already serving terms, after having exhausted all national legal remedies.

According to estimates of the German Federal Border Protection Service (Bundesgrenzschutz: BGS), 150 persons illegally cross the heavily guarded along the rivers Oder and Neisse every day. The Neisse in particular can be crossed easily.

In its efforts to curb illegal entries, the BGS has resorted to very questionable practices. Among other activities, authorities have set up a special "citizens' hot line", on which inhabitants of the border region can call free of charge to inform the BGS about "suspicious observations". The hot line has proven a success. More than half of the arrests of "illegal aliens" were made as a result of citizens acting as voluntary informers.

The BGS’s main concern is to prevent "illegal aliens" from reaching destinations inside Germany, since only aliens stopped in border districts can be returned to Poland or the Czech Republic without delay. Once an "illegal alien" has succeeded in filing an asylum application inside the country, this is no longer possible.

In a leaflet distributed by the BGS last year, taxi drivers are warned: "Do not carry persons in your taxi who have manifestly entered the country illegally". And Courts have given indications on how to distinguish illegal from legal aliens. "Conspicuously soiled clothes and shabby clothing", as well as "conspicuously large amounts of luggage" are sufficient grounds for suspicion. Wet clothes indicate that a would-be passenger has just swum across the Neisse, cab drivers are told. There are no other means for cab drivers to determine who is an "illegal alien". Cab drivers are prohibited by law from checking travel documents. They have only two safe options for avoiding the risk of prosecution. Either they refuse, as a rule, to carry passengers who look foreign, or they inform the BGS whenever their services are sought by a foreign-looking customer. In Zittau, cab drivers have opted for the first option. Nobody who looks like a foreigner can any longer expect to get a ride.

Recently, a local Turkish shop owner was attacked on the street and severely injured. Despite his desperate calls for help, no taxi driver wanted to take him to the hospital.

In the meantime, taxi drivers from Berlin and Hamburg have launched a protest campaign. In a convoy in solidarity with both their colleagues in the border regions and foreign passengers they drove to the border. Their statement distributed throughout the country says: "We want to carry people who look foreign, speak bad German, and have a lot of luggage and wet clothes to their destination". The campaign is running under the slogan "No human being is illegal".

Taxi drivers are also considering a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.


Source: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 29.1.99.