As the world watched in awe five years ago, new faces were welcomed into Germany with balloons and banners proclaiming ‘We love refugees’.
More than a million strangers headed there from faraway lands at the height of Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War II hoping for a new life in the West.
In a rallying cry to her nation, the German chancellor Angela Merkel declared in the autumn of 2015: ‘We can do this. We are strong and can manage it.’
Even as Mrs Merkel’s historic speech was broadcast on German TV, reports flashed up on the screen that trainloads of men, women and children were clamouring to be let in at her borders. And they were.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel taking a photograph with a refugee during a visit to a refugee reception centre in Berlin, Germany, in 2015
Mohammed Saleh, 17, who entered Berlin during the first wave of migrants in 2015 now hates Germany
In astonishing scenes a few days later, thousands of bedraggled, tired migrants turned up at railway stations in German cities to be met by local children blowing soap bubbles and handing over teddy bears as the country threw off its dark, xenophobic past to become the humanitarian face of Europe.
But today the celebrations for migrants are over in this powerhouse of the European Union.
Many of the foreigners who entered Germany in those heady days are being forcibly sent home to Africa, south Asia, the Middle East, Russia and the Balkans on secret flights, marshalled by security officers, after being frogmarched to airports from their beds by armed police.
As a result of this policy, some have disappeared into hiding and live on the streets in a bid to evade deportation orders handed out with alacrity by German courts.
Others live in fear in migrant camps dotted throughout Germany. They know that any day a police posse could arrive, handcuff them, and drive them straight to a waiting plane destined for their home country.
The Mail has discovered that hundreds who were afraid of being deported from Germany have fled to Calais where traffickers put them on boats or on lorries on ferries across the Channel.
Yesterday, relatives of the tragic family of five from Iran, who drowned in a small inflatable off Dunkirk as they were trying to reach the UK on Tuesday morning, said they had initially hoped to claim asylum in Germany, but had changed their minds and headed for the coast of France.
At Britain’s first migrant camp in a former Army barracks on the Kent coast, we met 14 young men from Africa and the Middle East who have run from Germany this summer. They claim it is a racist nation and Mrs Merkel’s pledge to refugees was a false promise.
One of them, 33-year-old Issak Michael from Eritrea who slipped into Dover on a ferry a few months ago, told us: ‘I could not walk into the centre of Hamburg, where I lived, without someone putting their middle finger in my face and saying ‘F*** you’ because of the colour of my skin’.
His Eritrean friend Shden Beyene, 29, also hid on a ferry to Britain after being threatened with deportation from Germany.
Migrants Ahmed Elmelhat (left), 35, Abdallah Haroon (centre), 18, and Armarmh Mahmud (right), 33, who claimed to have been living in Germany previously, now at the Napier Barracks in Kent
Issak Michael (left), 33, from Eritrea, who claimed he had previously been living in Germany, slipped into Dover on a ferry a few months ago while his friend Shden Beyene (right), 29, also hid on a ferry to Britain
Ali Tahmasbi and his son Aria, from Iran, are currently being housed in Xanten, Germany
The father and son are among hundreds of migrants staying in the German town which is located in the district of Wesel
He told us: ‘Germany refused me residency papers. There was no work, no education, no money to survive. The people made me small because I was a refugee.’
Whatever the truth of these lurid allegations, our investigation raises disturbing questions about Ger-many’s treatment of the foreigners it greeted with a fanfare five years ago.
We discovered that Germany-based migrants were fleeing to the UK after meeting an Iraqi on a Kent beach who had just got off a boat from France. He spoke no European language apart from the German he had picked up over five years as a ‘refugee’ in Berlin.
But in order to understand why this phenomenon has come about we must first go back to those euphoric days in 2015 when the frontiers of Europe cracked on the say-so of Mrs Merkel who, rightly, wanted to help those fleeing war-racked Syria.
The problem was that Syrians were not alone in asking for sanctuary. Many migrants — including jihadists and economic opportunists — pretended to be Syrian refugees. They came in under the radar as the number queuing to get to Germany grew each day.
Migrant Hand Idris, 18, is now staying at the Napier Barracks in Kent but claimed he had previously been staying in Germany
I was in Berlin that year and met the first Syrians who had made the journey on trains from the border.
They said only a third of the arrivals in Germany’s capital were from their country.
One, 25-year-old Mohammed Al-Abaan, banged his hand loudly on the table as we had a coffee together.
Three teenage girls were walking past in Islamic robes. ‘Look at them’, he shouted. ‘They pretend to be Syrian refugees like us. But their skin is blacker. They are Arab-speaking Muslims from Africa’s Sudan’.
The civil engineering graduate from a middle-class family fled Syria to escape military service in President Bashar Al-Assad’s army as it waged a civil war against Islamic State terrorists.
I thought he had got his figures wrong, but he drew a bar chart in my notebook showing that two-thirds of those he had travelled with into Germany were not his countrymen.
He explained, as a group of his friends at the table — including a 17-year-old boy called Saleh — nodded in agreement: ‘I can even spot light-skinned Arab men from Morocco or Tunisia who are pretending they are Syrian by how they cut their beards. It is not like us.
‘I love Germany and Germany loves us refugees, but this is not right,’ he added as he prepared to spend his first night in Berlin’s multicultural district of Neukolln.
One refugee from Nigeria said he was now hiding from the German authorities
Ali Tahmasbi and his son Aria are currently living in accommodation in Xanten
More than a million strangers headed there from faraway lands at the height of Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War II hoping for a new life in the West. Pictured: Housing facility for refugees in Xanten, Germany
Migrants Yousef Muhammad (left), 27, and Nohom Berhe (right), 25, claimed they were previously living in Germany before they came to the Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent
I kept in touch with Saleh, who now hates Germany. He was sent to live in a homeless hostel, has had a nervous breakdown, self-harmed by cutting his arm, and has taken an overdose of sleeping pills.
He told me recently: ‘I am depressed. I was taken to hospital and the doctors asked me why I wanted to die? I said I could no longer live in a strange country where they lower their eyes when they see an Arab migrant like me on the bus.’
This week in Germany, we found that the largesse of 2015 has come back to haunt the country.
At a camp in Leipzig near the Polish border, a 35-year-old Iranian migrant who has learned German off his own bat by watching the national TV, described the harsh reality.
He now has a low-level job, arranged through friends, in a giant car factory and said: ‘The Germans have let refugees down. They treat us like cattle. They talk to us like two-year-olds, as though we can never be as intelligent as them because we are not German.
‘They are deporting people daily. Eighty per cent of the 2,000 people in Leipzig’s main migrant camp are African. I now have a flat, but I lived in the camp when I came to Germany.
‘The Africans there are afraid. They are paid less than a euro a day by the German government to clean the place. That is modern slavery.’
He added: ‘I watched the police come early one morning. They took an African away to the deportation plane in a police car. They had drugged him to keep him quiet. He was carried off like a corpse and never seen again. I witnessed this with my own eyes.’
The Iranian’s name is known to the Mail but he wishes to go under the pseudonym Majed for his own safety because he faces persecution in authoritarian Iran if he is returned there.
After he had been found talking to a girl alone in a car in the capital Tehran, he was taken for questioning by the religious police and afterwards quickly fled the country for Europe.
He added: ‘The Germans run an asylum system designed to break people because it nearly always ends in deportation, unless you are Syrian who are a protected nationality. Even though I have a job, I could be ordered to leave at any time.’
Revealingly, Majed explained: ‘I know of plenty who go to Britain. It is so easy now to get from Germany to the French coast and take the boat or lorry across the Channel. Buying a ride from a trafficker is as simple as getting a train ticket.’
In Leipzig, Majed introduced us to William Osaruyi, a 29-year-old Nigerian who fled Islamic terrorism and is in hiding from the German police.
He entered Europe just after Mrs Merkel’s welcome speech five years ago and has been is now listed for deportation.
The German authorities want to send him back to Italy, where he first entered Europe in a traffickers’ boat carrying 150 migrants from Libya to the Italian island of Sardinia. On the boat a woman gave birth to a baby boy and William held the child after it was born. ‘I think I saved a life,’ he says thoughtfully.
He adds, forlornly, as we sit in a back-alley restaurant in Leipzig, ‘I was sent from Sardinia to the Italian mainland and lived on the streets. There an Italian man I met bought me a train ticket to Dusseldorf in Germany. He said: ‘Try it’. I thought it would be better.
‘I went straight to the German police to claim asylum and they put me in the Leipzig camp and left me there.’
Then his options were shut down. ‘I was handed my deportation papers. I have been given nothing by Germany. All I do is hide. I left the camp so they couldn’t send me back and I sleep on a friend’s floor.’
Some 200,000 failed asylum seekers, illegal entrants, and foreigners convicted of crimes in their own countries or Germany are estimated to be listed for deportation flights. Many entered in 2015 when Mrs Merkel sent out her welcome message to refugees.
After a litany of terror attacks, sex assaults, and even murders by some who slipped in, the deportations are, unsurprisingly, popular with many Germans. The authorities operate with ruthless efficiency.
The migrants on board deportation planes are outnumbered by hand-picked security officers, many drawn from the police, wearing protective gear to stop attacks.
On a recent flight out of Leipzig carrying 45 Afghans back to their capital, Kabul, 70 officers were on guard throughout. Some of the Afghans were forced to wear ‘body cuffs’ restricting their upper body movement to lessen the threat of violence.
A German police union chief, Jorg Radek, said recently that many of the deportees — who now number tens of thousands each year — are in an ‘exceptional state emotionally’.
He added, giving a rare glimpse of the secretive process: ‘The returnees resist with any means: scratching, biting, spitting and kicking. Some police officers have been badly injured on the journeys.’
Ali Tahmasbi, 43, who lives in a migrant camp of pre-fabricated houses on the outskirts of the picture postcard town of Xanten in western Germany, is one of many fearing deportation.
Migrants from Syria and Iraq take selfies with Angela Merkel outside a refugee camp after their registration in Berlin in 2015
A former civil engineer at Iran’s premier nuclear power station, he stands accused by the Islamic regime of spying for the Israelis, of supporting opposition parties, and disrespecting the government. He has been sentenced in his absence to 130 lashes and 15 years imprisonment.
It is a terrifying prospect, especially as he has a 16-year-old son, Aria, who travelled to Germany with him.
Ali says he is innocent of trumped up charges against him. He invites us into his home in the camp, shared by two other migrants — one Iranian and the other Turkish — where he and Aria sleep on a bunk bed in one of the two bedrooms.
He makes us an Iranian breakfast of eggs, flat bread and cream cheese as he chats.
‘I thought Germany would be peaceful, a good place for Aria to grow up,’ he says simply. ‘I was wrong. It is full of fake refugees who make the German authorities more hostile to those of us fleeing persecution. I cannot sleep as a thousand times a night, I wish I had never come here.’
To add to his troubles, this well-mannered man, who stands as I enter the room, had a kidney tumour removed at a German hospital three months ago.
Yet he travels to an Iranian restaurant two hours away on public transport six days a week to cook meals so he can raise money to flee Germany and pay a trafficker to cross the Channel to the UK.
He does not seem to realise that he may be sent right back to Germany by the Home Office. In the past two months, deportation flights have returned 39 migrants who arrived from Mrs Merkel’s country, via France, on small boats across the Channel.
For Ali, life in Germany is a far cry from Iran where he reluctantly left behind his wife, whom he won’t name because of the risk of reprisals.
His good job at the nuclear power station meant he had a middle-class lifestyle with a large family house, several fast cars and five horses which son Aria was learning to ride. This ‘has all gone now,’ he says.
He is in an impossible Catch-22 situation. He shows me a sheaf of his German immigration papers.
One says sternly: ‘You and your son are obliged to leave the country and this is enforceable.’ Another instructs him to go to the Iranian embassy in Frankfurt to get a passport so he can be deported back to Iran with Aria.
‘If I go to the embassy, I will be arrested. The Iranians will handcuff me, probably beat me up, and send me home.
The occupants of one of the hundreds of illegal boats crossing the Channel arrive in Dover
‘The Germans say that if I don’t go to the embassy, I will lose this little house as a punishment.’
At his camp live Somalians, Bangladeshis, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Turks, Pakistanis, Russians and Iranians like himself.
‘Only a few are Syrians who Mrs Merkel offered to help,’ says Ali.
Next door, the Bangladeshi family are about to be deported. The Pakistanis down the row of prefabs are on the list too. Since Ali arrived he has seen Chechens and Ukrainians also forcibly taken from the camp to the airport.
He has been refused asylum twice and his permission to work has been removed as a result.
‘I work at the restaurant illegally to save money to get to France and reach England on the traffickers’ boats or lorries. I have two friends, a couple, who were refused asylum here and reached England a few weeks ago. I know others too.’
One day soon, he will have saved enough to set off. And, not wanting to sound uncharitable to Mrs Merkel, it is very likely the Germans will turn a blind eye when he disappears with his handsome young son.
Overwhelmed by the migrants whom they welcomed with such gusto, Germany may be relieved to see two Iranians leave for Britain, just like many others before them.