Germany's Bundesrat upper house of parliament has endorsed asylum law changes. Former war-torn Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia have been declared safe, making it easier for German authorities to send back asylum-seekers.
The assembly representing Germany's 16 regional states on Friday narrowly backed asylum law changes already passed by the lower house, the Bundestag. For those awaiting or granted asylum, bars on work and residency are to be relaxed.
The compromise package between both houses emerged early on Friday when the southern state of Baden-Wurttemberg, comprising Social Democrats and Greens, said "yes" on the condition that persons seeking asylum be treated better within Germany.
The past practice whereby a local authority did not allow an applicant to travel outside the municipality is to be lifted after three months. Residency confinement will, however, apply to persons who use narcotics or are convicted of crimes.
Decades of heavily-restricted access by asylum-seekers to Germany's labor market are to be eased: For the first 3 months an absolute ban will apply. Those who have had to wait 4 years to take up work will be able to do so after 15 months.
German will, however, in future apply its "safe country of origin" concept to three Balkan states, barring asylum to applicants, often from the impoverished Roma minority.
That concept has been controversial since its introduction in 1993. German human rights groups and churches argue that Roma face discrimination and that the "safe" declaration breaches each applicant's entitlement to an individual case examination.
Safe country status already applies to all 28 nations of the European Union as well as Senegal and Ghana.
Focus on Syria
In reactions, Gerda Hasselfeldt, who leads conservative Bavarian Bundestag parliamentarians, said it had become important to focus on crisis regions.
"Whoever manages to emerge alive from Aleppo needs our help more than economic refugees from the Balkan region," Hasselfeldt said.
Other Social Democrat-Green regional governments such as Rhineland Palatinate refused to adopt a safe classification for the three Balkans states. The move had also been opposed by opposition Greens and Left party parliamentarians in the Bundestag.
The Greens party premier of Baden-Wurttemberg Winfried Kretschmann said his regional government finally decided to vote yes" in Friday's Bundestag ballot because the compromise substantially improved refugee conditions in Germany.
During negotiations, municipalities required to house asylum-seekers had pressed for better funding.
Leading Greens distanced themselves on Friday from Kretschmann. The Greens' federal chairperson Simone Peter said the "safe" classification for the Balkans helped neither the asylum applicants nor the municipalities, but instead eroded the fundamental right to asylum. The packet reached was inadequate, she said.
Jump in asylum numbers
For the last two years, Germany has attracted more asylum requests than any other country in the EU. In 2013 requests jumped 64 percent to 127,023.
Last year, the number of first-time applicants from Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina reached 21,000.
The conflict in Syria has prompted a threefold increase in Syrian asylum requests since the start of this year. The number of those from Iraq has doubled.
ipj/dr (AFP, dpa, epd)