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New German asylum measures

September 29, 2015

The government has sent tightened asylum measures to the Bundestag for debate. Chancellor Angela Merkel's support has slipped over concerns about her handling of asylum as anti-migrant groups have taken to the streets.

Deutschland Kabinett bringt Asyl-Gesetzespaket auf den Weg
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul

Germany's government approved new asylum measures Tuesday, including a tightening of its policy on "safe countries" of origin, which generally rejects migrants from certain nations. The cabinet also agreed to steps to provide more housing and support for unaccompanied minors and to speed up processing of asylum applications, as well as deporting people who are turned down.

"Tackling the high numbers of refugees is a top priority for the German government," Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said on Tuesday. "We want to, and must, master this huge challenge."

To cover next year's costs, Schäuble agreed to set aside 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion) in windfall income from this year's budget. Last week, the government had announced that it would pay the 16 federal states 670 euros each month for every asylum applicant they took in, a total of about 4 billion euros.

The government will also seek to reduce allowances for migrants while their asylum applications are under consideration and they are not allowed to work, offering to distribute benefits in kind rather than cash. Those with a good chance of receiving asylum would also receive integration classes, according to the new measures which will parliament will debate from Thursday before, pending approval, they enter into force on November 1.

The government added Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro to its list of "safe countries," which will result in swifter deportations for applicants for asylum from those states. Selmin Caliskan, Amnesty International's secretary-general in Germany, warned that asylum applicants from "safe" countries could receive an unfair assessment of their claims.

Proposals spark criticism

The Council for Migration, an association of more than 100 migration experts based in Germany, sharply criticized the government's plans on Tuesday. Werner Schiffauer, a cultural and social antrhopologist and chairman of the council, said they continue a policy trend based on deterrance and separation, according to news agency EPD. He went on to say the migration crisis should be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity to fundamentally revise the foundation of Europe's asylum policies.

Instead, Schiffauer argued, the proposed policies are continuing the restrictive path they've been on for recent years. He railed against the concept of "safe countries" of origin, arguing they will do little to deter illegal migration.

Schiffauer also critized lengthening the stay of asylum seekers in refugee processing centers by several months, describing them as noisy and chaotic. "Families will go crazy in those facilities," he told EPD.

The Council for Migration has released a ten-point program for revamping the continent's approach to migration, including suspending the Dublin system, waving cases for refugees from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq, and opening up more legal avenues to immigrate to Europe.

Violent anti-migrant backlash

Media reported that about 8,500 people joined a march in Dresden by the anti-migrant group PEGIDA Monday, in which participants punched and kicked two journalists. The number of attacks and criminal offenses committed against shelters for asylum applicants has more than doubled this year, to 437 and emboldened right-wing groups have taken to the streets for months


Deutschland Pegida-Demonstration in Dresden
Skyrocketing refugee numbers have reignited anti-migrant protests in DresdenImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Chancellor Angela Merkel has drawn criticism, especially among her conservatives, for making Germany a more welcoming place for applicants for asylum. The country has since suspended its Schengen commitments, reimposing checks on arrivals from country's within the nominally border-free zone.

The International Organization for Migration has estimated that 2,892 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa this year to reach Europe.

blc, mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP, epd)