The German government wants to contain the flow of asylum seekers from the western Balkans. That would mainly affect Sinti and Roma. The opposition has accused the government of poisoning the climate.
The grand coalition of conservative Christian parties and the Social Democrats wants to pass a new law declaring Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina safe countries of origin. The governing coalition also wants to shorten the asylum procedure. The responsible authority, the Federal Agency of Migration and Refugees, would then assume asylum requests from these countries are unfounded. The applicants, mainly Sinti and Roma, would then have to prove during asylum interviews that they are persecuted in order to avoid deportation. An appeal of a deportation ruling would have to be filled within a week.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere (CDU) has referred to the sharp increase of asylum seekers from Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina since the lifting of the visa requirements in 2009 and 2010 as reason for the new law. Currently one fourth of the asylum requests are from these three countries. Most of the asylum seekers are considered economic migrants and there is a growing lack of understanding among the German population, he added. A responsible asylum policy has "to preserve the huge readiness for admission, which characterizes our society, for the acceptance for the people who really need protection," the interior minister said in response to criticism from the opposition and relief organizations that the proposed policy was overly harsh.
CDU: Albania and Montenegro are also safe
Thomas de Maiziere says that the increasing numbers of asylum seekers from the Balkans have to be contained
Germany has accepted more Syrian refugees than any other EU member state. In contrast only 60 of 22,000 asylum seekers from the western Balkan countries have been granted asylum. Another 82 fought successfully for a residence permit in court.
The former leader of the Green Party, Claudia Roth, demanded that the government not put Syrian refugees in a competition against asylum seekers from the western Balkans. The opposition parties, the Left and the Greens, have severely criticized the proposed tightening of the asylum law, but due to the governing parties' wide majority in the parliament, the opposition has no chance to stop the bill. Furthermore, the interior minister has suggested that he intends to negotiate during the legislative process whether Albania and Montenegro should be included as safe countries as well. Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition of conservative Christian parties (CDU/CSU) supporting adding the countries to the safe list, but the junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), is wary.
The Green Party and the Left have accused the government of downplaying human rights violations in the countries concerned. The government has not used all available sources to evaluate the forms of discrimination Roma suffer.
Roma and Sinti make up the majority of the asylum seekers in Germany, and the German population is less and less accepting of them, according to a study by the University of Leipzig. About 50 percent of the Germans polled said they want to ban Sinti and Roma from the inner cities. Some 55 percent said they would regard it as a problem if Roma and Sinti were to stay in their neighborhood.
Left: raging anti-Roma sentiment
Ulla Jelpke from the Left Party sees anti-Roma feelings in Germany
The Left Party spokesperson for interior affairs, Ulla Jelpke, said there was a wide-spread anti-Roma sentiment in Germany, which has been encouraged by discussions about asylum abuse. This debate is mainly supported by Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union.
Germany bears a historical responsibility to the Sinti and Roma after they were brutally persecuted by the Nazi regime. Green Party politician Luise Amtsberg accused the government of "poisoning the climate." She said she fears that asylum requests from these countries will be refused out of hand. By contrast SPD politician Rüdiger Veit said the office dealing with asylum applicants is no longer a refugee rejection authority. The office is definitely able to work out who is in need of protection, he added.
The government has also pointed out that Germany's neighbors France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria and Switzerland have classified the three Balkan countries as safe countries of origin.
The bill, as proposed by the government, also includes an improvement for job-seeking asylum seekers: in the future they will be allowed to work after three months. The current waiting period is nine months. The asylum process should be completed after three months, emphasized de Maiziere.
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Police have evicted dozens of anti-asylum protestors and imposed calm on Heidenau, the eastern German town hit by far-right rioting last weekend. Meanwhile, pro-asylum supporters have given refugees a warm welcome.
This weekend in Berlin, you can get your load of culture without paying too much. Governmental, religious and cultural institutions are opening their doors - some of them late into the night.