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FDP migration proposal outlines new refugee status

If Free Democratic Party head Christian Lindner has his way, war refugees will have to leave Germany as soon as conflict ends. The proposal critiques Angela Merkel's CDU - though they may end up as political partners.

Head of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) Christian Lindner announced Monday in Berlin that a change of course in German refugee policy would be a pre-requisite for taking part in a coalition government that could emerge after Germans vote in a national parliamentary election on September 24.

The European refugee crisis has riveted and divided German society since summer 2015 and has become a hot-topic issue during the 2017 political campaign.

Read more: FDP's Christian Lindner sets out vision for German economy, refugee policy

A Merkel rebuke?

In a statement that accompanied the presentation of a policy paper, Lindner and his FDP colleague Joachim Stamp, currently North Rhine-Westphalia's minister for children, families and refugees, outlined the FDP's plans to create a new legal category for individuals fleeing war separate from those facing political persecution. They also detailed how the party intended to combine humanitarian compassion with the interest of the labor market's needs, sharing their proposal on the FDP Twitter account.

The FDP, a market-liberal party that is looking to re-enter the parliament after a four year absence, said its goal with its proposal was to achieve a "turnaround" from the "chaotic migration to Germany" to an "organized migration strategy." This description implicitly criticized the government led by Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that struggled to deal with the influx of refugees into Germany starting in 2015. Yet, the FDP could be a favored coalition partner for the CDU if Merkel's party manages to win the largest share of the vote.

A new legal status

The FDP's plan centered on more clearly delineating between individuals who are fleeing violent conflict, those who are fleeing politically persecution, and those seeking work in Germany.

Stamp said their proposal would establish the new legal status of "temporary humanitarian protection" for refugees who travel to Germany to escape war. After passing identity and security checks, the refugees would have right to remain and work in Germany, as well as have family members join them — rights which they currently possess as recognized refugees under the Geneva Refugee Convention.

German refugees in Freital (Getty Images/AFP/T. Schwarz)

Refugees stroll down the street in Freital. The FDP would tie war refugees' right to remain in Germany to the duration of violent conflict.

According to the FDP's plan, once the conflict ended, temporarily protected refugees would be required to return home. Currently, recognized refugees initially receive a residence permit for three years with the possiblity to then obtain a settlement permit. It was unclear how and whether the proposed temporary status would fit in with the Geneva Refugee Convention protections.

The FDP's announcement was in line with a highly-criticized interview published on September 6 in Germany's mass circulation paper Bild, in which Lindner stated that refugees who flee war to Germany — including Syrians — must return to their homeland as soon as possible.

The FDP did not outline what the conditions would be for determining the beginning and end points of a conflict.

Asylum changes

Individuals seeking asylum on the basis of political persecution would still be protected under the Geneva Refugee Convention's asylum rights. The FDP called for such individuals to be placed in central reception camps upon their arrival, as is currently done. However, they would do away with the small monthly payouts to asylum seekings and provide them with in-kind benefits only.

In another difference to the current rules, the asylum seeker could only be relocated from the reception center upon approval of his or her asylum application. A rejected asylum seeker would face deportation from the camp.

It was not clear what the legal pathway would be for changing the refugee and asylum categories governed by the international Geneva treaty.

Read more: AfD leader Petry wants to strike right to asylum from German constitution

Christian Lindner of the FDP stands in front of a party sign (picture-alliance/dpa/T. Hase)

After failing to enter the Bundestag in the last elections, Christian Lindner became the new face of the FDP

Meeting the market's needs

The politicians from the FDP, which favors liberal free-market policies, also described how migration policy should be reformed to meet the needs of the labor market and attract qualified migrant workers to Germany.

Stamp called for the Blue Card, an EU-wide work permit for non-EU citizens, to be reformed so that workers who receive a work contract from a German company can more easily receive the right to residency. He also argued for the introduction of a "Chance Card" that would let a limited number of skilled workers from non-EU nations reside in Germany for one year in order to look for a job. A points system would be created to score individuals from around the world who are interested in coming to Germany to work.

Despite the FDP's proposal for more delineation, there would be flexibility to move between categories, the politicians pointed out. A war refugee who socially integrates well and has in-demand skills could become a long-term immigrant, they said.

Watch video 26:04

#Germany Decides - Meet the Candidate Christian Lindner

cmb/rc (Reuters, AFP)

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