According to Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's coalition leaders have struck a compromise on changes to asylum laws, especially concerning deportations. Cologne's attacks had hung heavy over talks.
Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel told reporters in Berlin on Thursday that the compromise deal would include a slight change in rules for families seeking to join people granted asylum in Germany. In future, Gabriel said, for refugees "who are not being personally, urgently persecuted," a waiting-period of two years would be introduced for families seeking to join them.
"Asylum Package II now stands and can go through to the cabinet at speed," Gabriel said. "Asylum Package I" was struck last year, as Germany responded to the new arrivals from the Middle East and Africa. That package came into force on November 1.
Other new regulations under discussion on Thursday included designating Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria as "safe countries of origin," meaning refugees from these countries could be rejected with greater ease in the future. The leaders were also discussing the construction of special reception centers where applications for asylum could be processed much faster.
Partial protection for some migrants
The clause pertaining to families, called "subsidiary protection," had been a point of contention among members of the ruling coalition for a long time. "Subsidiary protection" means a refugee has no claim to asylum, but cannot go back to his homeland because of life-threatening conditions. A migrant with "subsidiary protection" gets a residence permit only for a year initially.
However, opposition members in the Bundestag warned against introducing the clause. Volker Beck, the Greens' spokesman for the interior, described the rule "as an employment-generating measure for smugglers" and said it would lead to more women and children using dangerous routes to flee their country. "The inventors of such roles are effectively accepting the threat of death by drowning in the Mediterranean," he said.
The CDU, CSU and SPD had agreed last year to exclude Syrian refugees from the "subsidiary protection," but new laws have made this difficult. In an attempt to explain the new deportation laws, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert posted this video on Twitter, explaining how deportation actually happened and that German authorities would not send back refugees from conflict-ridden countries like Syria and Iraq.
Merkel to meet regional heads
Chancellor Merkel was supposed to announce the latest decision to the governments of Germany's 16 states on Thursday evening. States governed by the Social Democrats put forward a list of demands to help integrate refugees into Germany. Local leaders also asked the federal government for special funds to build kindergartens, employ more teachers and social workers.
Meanwhile, Berlin continued to put pressure on countries at the EU's external border to help reduce the number of refugees. "We must ensure that everyone is oriented towards their commitments," the chief of the Chancellery in Berlin, Peter Altmaier, told journalists. Greece had promised to build hotspots for refugees by the end of 2015. The Netherlands has also increased pressure on Greece to send back refugees to Turkey.
mg/msh (Reuters, dpa, epd)