The deportation order came as a shock. ‘Be ready at 2am,; the letter read, ‘for a transfer to Dusseldorf Airport where you will be flown back to Budapest.’
Two days before deportation, Caritas and Church Asylum acted. They transported the family by car from temporary accommodation in northern Germany to an Evangelic Church in Cologne, where they were given shelter; the Church Asylum then mounted a legal battle.
“We have no problem to live in a Church, but Afghan people in my village would think negatively; they don’t know Christian people,” Golam Mirzale, the father of four, explained.
Church Asylum organisation is a network of various Christian parishes in Germany to “protect people from deportation, if there is a reasonable doubt about a safe return,” according to the official website.
The Mirzale family were fingerprinted in Hungary, when making their way from Serbia. “We didn’t want to give fingerprints, but the Police were beating us,” said Golam.
Al Jazeera spoke to a worker from the deportation department in Cologne’s North-Rhine Westphalia region under the condition of anonymity: “If fingerprints are found to be somewhere previously, they get sent back – but not to Hungary, because we know it’s very bad for refugees there,” he said.
Currently, there are 303 churches in Germany providing Church Asylum, hosting a total of 473 people, out of which 110 are children.
“Police in Cologne recognises Church Asylum and leaves our people in peace. What we are doing is illegal, and the Migration and Refugee Ministry has the right to arrest us,” explained Pastor Rollbuhler at the Church in Cologne.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, from the Christian Democrat (CDU) party, compared the Church Asylum system to “sharia” in February 2015, for placing itself “above the law” – a statement he later retracted.
“Things can always change and you don’t know what will happen in the next elections – AfD [Alternative for Germany, a growing populist party] is there, Christian Democrats (CDU) have also become very right wing,” added Rollbuhler.