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Germany votes to classify Maghreb states 'safe countries of origin'

Despite strong criticism, Germany's Bundestag has approved a proposal to add Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to a list of "safe countries of origin." The regulation aims to reduce the number of asylum-seekers in Germany.

In all, 422 German lawmakers in the lower house of parliament voted on Friday in favor of classifying the trio of North African countries as so-called "safe countries of origin."

There were 143 votes against the change, while three lawmakers abstained. The move will allow German authorities to speed up the process of sending Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian asylum-seekers back to their nations of origin.

The decision must still be approved by the Bundesrat - Germany's upper house of parliament - before it can be implemented.

Under German law, refugees from a so-called "safe country of origin" generally have no right to asylum.

Ahead of Friday's vote, Germany's Greens strongly rejected the reclassification.

"Human rights in the Maghreb are in a bad way," Greens foreign affairs expert Jürgen Trittin told the German newspaper "Saarbrücker Zeitung" on Friday.

"These are not safe countries of origin. Period," Trittin argued, urging German states with Green representation to vote against the proposed change when it comes before the Bundesrat, where states are represented.

The Green-CDU coalition in Baden-Württemberg has already said, however, that it will vote in favor of the new rule as long as there are no constitutional hurdles. In 2014, the state, which was under a Green-Social Democrat (SPD) coalition at the time, also supported the expansion of Germany's list of "safe countries," allowing Serbia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to be added to the list. The decision was met with huge criticism from the Greens.

'Fundamental right to asylum'

Leaders from Germany's biggest social organizations have also expressed fears that guarantees for individual asylum procedures would be undermined by the regulation.

"Classifying these three countries as safe countries of origin and deciding in future on the asylum applications with a fast-track procedure affects the core of the fundamental right to asylum - the right to individual examination," Diakonie President Ulrich Lily told German media group RND on Friday.

In the three North African countries being considered for the "safe list," the human rights of political dissidents, gay men and lesbians, women, and people with disabilities are regularly violated, Ulrich said.

Peter Neher, president of the German Caritas Association, also voiced concerns that as a result of the new legislation, "the outcome of individual asylum procedure will be pre-empted."

Non-asylum-related migrants

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere defended the new rule, however, claiming that a large number of people from the Maghreb states come to Germany "for reasons that are not connected to asylum."

"The stay of such people must be ended quickly," the Christian Democrat (CDU) told Friday's edition of the "Rheinische Post."

De Maiziere also noted that in the first quarter of 2016, only 0.7 percent of applicants from the Maghreb were granted protection status. In 2015, about 26,000 people from the three countries applied for asylum in Germany; about 2 percent of their applications were approved.

In light of the unprecedented influx of refugees to Europe, Berlin has come under huge pressure from critics in recent months to reduce the number of people granted asylum. Last year saw the arrival of some 1.1 million refugees in Germany, most of whom were from Syria and Afghanistan.

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De Maiziere: Not everyone can have asylum

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