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German Bundestag approves payment cards for asylum-seekers

April 12, 2024

German lawmakers have voted to introduce a card system meant to limit the amount of cash received by asylum-seekers. The government-backed initiative was opposed by the socialist Left Party and conservative CDU/CSU bloc.

A close up of a Bavarian payment card for asylum seekers
Bavaria is one of the German states which has already started testing out the payment card scheme for asylum seekersImage: Frank Hoermann/SvenSimon/picture alliance

The German parliament's lower house on Friday approved legislation to introduce a nationwide payment card scheme for asylum-seekers.

The system would restrict benefits payable in cash, as the traffic-light coalition government of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the Green Party, and the business-focused Free Democrats (FDP) seeks to make the country less attractive as an asylum destination.

How would the card system work?

"The payment card can be used to pay for everyday goods and services, as well as groceries in the supermarket, a visit to the hairdresser or a ticket for public transit," German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told the Bundestag.

However, Faeser explained the cards would provide only very limited ability to withdraw cash, and they would no longer be able to transfer money abroad.

The government wants to stop asylum-seekers from sending money to family and friends in other countries — or to pay people smugglers.

Faeser told lawmakers there was "a clear yes to helping people who are seeking protection and need support in Germany."

At the same time, she said, the cards represented "a clear no to transferring social benefits to smugglers and smugglers abroad."

Disputes arise over EU's future tougher asylum reform

Under the legislation, local authorities would have some latitude to grant exemptions and decide the level of the cash limit.

Who's for and who's against?

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and all 16 of Germany's state premiers agreed in principle to introduce the system in early November.

However, differences in the governing coalition — on whether specific legislation was needed and on details of the scheme — needed to be ironed out. Some states, such as Hamburg and Bavaria, have already started testing their own systems.

In the Bundestag vote, most members of the SPD-Greens-FDP coalition voted for the law. The populist Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance and the far-right Alternative for Germany also backed the legislation.

The socialist Left Party voted against it, as did the conservative opposition CDU/CSU bloc, which has said it wants a monthly withdrawal limit as low as €50 (about $53).

The German Parity Welfare Association has opposed the system, calling it "an instrument to control, control and discriminate against refugees."

Germany's police union (GdP) has also argued against very restrictive limits on how much cash asylum-seekers can access.

The GdP warns that many asylum-seekers are under pressure to send money home or pay smuggling gangs and they may turn to criminal activity as a result.

rc/wd (dpa, epd, KNA)

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