Germany's 16 state interior ministers agreed on Thursday during a meeting in Koblenz to toughen the screening process for all asylum seekers. Personal interviews will resume for all applicants, including Syrians, who have only had to provide information in writing for the past year.
"I have deemed it necessary to reintroduce individual assessments for all refugees and asylum seekers - regardless of which country they come from," Germany's federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said during a press conference. He did not mention a start date for the stricter assessments.
The stricter controls have been called for "on security grounds" and to "ascertain identities and prevent abuse." Increased support for the controls came following reports that some asylum seekers used false Syrian passports. The move comes in the wake of the Paris attacks which killed 130 people.
Critics of the screening measures warned that the individual assessments would trap refugees in cycles of bureaucracy which could last for months. Federal migration commissioner Aydan Oezoguz said that the asylum procedures should be accelerated despite the stricter controls. She conceded, however, that "we also need to look more closely at asylum applicants from Syria, Eritrea and Iraq when carrying out identity checks."
'A gamble with human lives'
During their meeting on Thursday, the state interior ministers also agreed to send back most asylum-seekers from Afghanistan - who now make up the second-largest group of arrivals after Syrians.
"Repatriations to safe areas of Afghanistan are permitted in principle," said de Maiziere, adding that Berlin and Kabul have agreed to cooperate in order to fight human trafficking and carry out information campaigns aimed at dissuading Afghans from leaving for Europe.
Guenter Burkhardt, who heads the non-governmental organization Pro Asyl, argued it was irresponsible for Germany to send people back to strife-ridden Afghanistan. He argued that the country has "no regions that can be considered permanently secure."
"This is a gamble with human lives," Burkhardt said.
Family reunions uncertain
Questions concerning Syrian families trying to come together still remain. "We have not talked about family reunification today," said de Maiziere, explaining that the matter still needed to be clarified by the federal government in Berlin.
Members of Germany's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) insist that restrictions should be placed on families reuniting due to the high influx of refugees - but members of the Social Democrats (SPD) appeared to be skeptical.
According to sources in Germany's coalition government, over 950,000 refugees have been registered this year in Germany alone. Numbers of arrivals have dropped recently due to heavier crackdowns on people smugglers.
rs/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)