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De Maiziere calls to extend border controls as EU ministers meet in Malta

Germany's interior minister has also called for refugees to be held in a "safe place" outside of Europe. His statements came as EU leaders met in Valletta to discuss border protection and the refugee crisis.

In Thursday's paper - a government response to an official enquiry from the opposition Green Party - de Maiziere made clear that the border checks currently in place on the German-Austrian border would not be lifted until the second half of 2017. His extension follows the European Commission's Tuesday recommendation to continue limited border checks in five Schengen zone countries for at least three more months.

A change in rationale

Though Maiziere's announcement signifies the continuation of a policy in place since September 2015, the underlying reason has changed. Previously, Germany along with Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway instituted border controls as an attempt to manage the influx of refugees into Europe. Though not an EU member, Norway is part of the open-border Schengen area.

Now, however, the extension is due not just to ongoing migratory pressures but is "in light of the entire situation," de Maiziere wrote in his answer. He expanded on this during Thursday's ministerial meeting in Malta.

Malta informelles Treffen der EU-Innenminister zu Migration und Grenzsicherung Thomas de Maziere (DW/B. Riegert)

De Maiziere called to keep German border controls through much of 2017

"In Germany we have an extraordinary security situation in this half of the year, just after the Berlin attack," he said, referencing the December 2016 terrorist attack on a Christmas market.

This grounding places Germany alongside France, which also maintains border checks due terror danger, and beyond the need for approval by the EU commissioners who can approve a three-month extension. On Wednesday, prior to de Maiziere's announcement, Brussels greenlighted a three-month extension for Germany.

Malta informelles Treffen der EU-Innenminister zu Migration und Grenzsicherung Palast des Großmeisters (DW/B. Riegert)

EU ministers met in Malta to discuss EU border control

EU ministers discuss borders in Malta

De Maiziere also discussed the issue of border control and the refugee crisis at the European level with his justice and interior ministry compatriots from various EU member states as they met informally on Thursday in the Maltese capital. The agenda also was set to include improvements to electronic entry registration and possible reform of the European asylum system, or so-called Dublin rules.

Before entering the meeting, EU migration minister Dimitris Avramopoulos expressed optimism on finding a solution to relieve the Mediterranean countries of their burdens in dealing with asylum cases. Currently, an asylum-seeker is obligated to file in the country of arrival.

Belgien Dimitris Avramopoulos (picture alliance/AP Photo/D. Vojinovic))

Avramopoulos hopes to improve the EU asylum system

"I hope that today finally we shall find the common ground on solidarity," Avramopoulos told reporters. "I think one and a half years is enough."

Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak seconded the EU minister's statements, saying that "our focus in this year has to be put on the (central) Mediterranean route." Slovakia, Hungary and Poland have only hesitatingly admitted asylum seekers to their countries and have offered up financial assistance instead.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had previously warned the EU that an "unprecedented" flow of migrants could attempt to cross into Europe via the Mediterranean this spring.

Holding camps in north Africa?

De Maziere renewed his own proposal for dealing with the migration crisis: financing refugee camps in north Africa run by international agencies where so migrants can be brought to a "safe place."

"We can then take those deserving protection, and only those, from this safe place to Europe," he said. He did not name specific countries where such camps could be located but implied that this measure would reduce migrant smuggling into Europe.

cmb/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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