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Germany Divided Over Asylum Centers in Africa

After the interior minister proposed the creation of EU asylum centers in North Africa, opposition leader Angela Merkel endorsed the plan as "legitimate." Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was far less supportive.


Is Europe's boat too full?

As illegal immigration hits the news over the events surrounding the odyssey of the German relief ship Cap Anamur and the plight of dozens of Africans plucked from the Mediterranean, German politicians have begun taking sides on a British plan to build EU asylum centers in North Africa.

Interior Minister Otto Schily supports the proposal, which London had put forth in previous EU meetings as a solution for dealing with the growing number of illegal immigrants who leave North Africa on rickety boats bound for European shores. The idea is to stop the would-be refugees before they leave home and to involve the countries of departure in the process of countering illegal immigration.

Otto Schily Galerie deutsche Politiker

Otto Schily was originally opposed to asylum centers in North Africa but changed his mind after the Cap Anamur incident.

"I believe that North African countries also have to be interested in preventing things from continuing as they are," Schily said in a meeting of EU interior and justice ministers last week.

Coalition partners, however, are opposed to the plan. The Greens said the establishment of an asylum center outside the union would violate Europe's humanitarian principles and send the message that the "boat is full."

Green criticism

Außenministertreffen in Luxemburg Joschka Fischer

Joschka Fischer joins his Greens party colleagues in opposing EU asylum centers in North Africa.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (Greens) was unusually frank in his criticism of Shily's proposal. "I disagree with it completely," he said in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF.

The plan hasn't been thought out in terms of the humanitarian aspects, he stressed. It's much more important "to first get involved in the situation in Africa and give the people there a perspective," he added.

Angelika Beer, Greens co-chairwoman, spoke out against the plain in a similarly critical manner last week. "People in need will have to be able to reach Europe in the future as well," she said and proposed instead that EU refugee funds be increased to help fight the problem at its roots.

Conservative fence-sitting

The conservative opposition hasn't quite made up its mind on the issue. While Angela Merkel, head of the Christian Democrats Union (CDU), endorsed the creation of asylum centers in North Africa as "a legitimate consideration," and Bavarian Interior Minister Gunther Beckstein of the Christian Social Union (CSU) called it a "sensible idea," Wolfang Bosbach, a legal expert for CDU, said the proposal was too vague.

Bosbach said Schily needed to provide more details on the EU's role in running the centers especially considering the fact that Brussels has not yet agreed on a European-wide asylum policy.

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