Opposition parties in Germany expressed major criticism of a set of proposed asylum laws. The German interior minister praised the bills, however, hailing them as an important contribution to tackling the refugee crisis.
Speaking in the lower house of parliament at the initial consultation of the bills on Friday, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the planned regulations were "the difficult but right step in a long journey."
The Christian Democrat (CDU) minister emphasized the importance of a controversial suspension of family reunification, which also applies to minors with limited protection under German law.
"We do not want parents send to their children ahead of them, with the risk of them facing mortal danger," the interior minister said, before arguing that the introduction of new regulations would also simplify the deportation of foreign criminals.
"Germany remains a country with heart and a country with rules," de Maiziere said, adding that those who come to Germany as refugees "have to behave decently and abide by laws."
Despite defending the bill on Friday, de Maiziere admitted that the draft law "does not solve all the problems" tied to the refugee crisis.
Controversial restrictions on family reunification
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet approved the draft asylum package earlier this month with the aim of managing the environment created by more than 1 million migrants who entered the country in 2015 - many of whom had fled war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Under the new legislation, Merkel's government intends to implement faster asylum procedures, to create special reception centers for refugees without the prospect of receiving protection in Germany, and to put in place restrictions on family reunification.
Breeding ground for populists
Opposition members responded with harsh criticism of the measures on Friday with Left parliamentary group leader Dietmar Bartsch saying the government was producing "doubts and fears that are a breeding ground for populists."
"Each refugee child waiting for his parents in Germany is a humanitarian hardship," Bartsch said, adding that the restrictions on the families of unaccompanied minors were "illegal, un-Christian and immoral."
Green Party lawmaker Konstantin von Notz also criticized the asylum package, describing it as a "hastily devised draft, that we are stuck with."
As a result, "even more women and children would be driven to the inflatable boats," Notz said.
Merkel's so-called grand coalition government enjoys majorities in both houses of German parliament and the package is expected to be enacted this month.
ksb/sms (AFP, epd, dpa)