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Merkel and state leaders agreed to a plan to quickly deport rejected asylum-seekers. Although deportations are a state matter, the federal government made it clear it wants to play a bigger role.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the premiers of Germany's 16 states in Berlin on Thursday and agreed to a plan that will speed up the deportation process for migrants denied asylum.
One of the main tenets of the 16-point plan concerns a central coordination center in Berlin that would include representatives from each state. Additionally, the plan calls for federal deportation centers to be set up near airports to facilitate collective deportations.
"We have agreed that a repatriation center, where all responsible authorities are present - which to some extent already exists - should be constructed under federal authority in Potsdam," said Volker Bouffier, the state premier of Hesse.
The plan would also make it easier to deport migrants who have been deemed as threats, and increase incentives for "voluntary returns," where migrants receive money if they choose to leave Germany before receiving a final ruling on their asylum application.
"We are placing a strong emphasis on voluntary returns," Merkel said late on Thursday. "We know, however, that nobody will volunteer to return to their home country if there isn't also a forced deportation scheme in place."
The chancellor maintained that the plan will be implemented "on the basis that we want to help those who are most vulnerable."
Within its federal system, Germany's individual states are responsible for carrying out deportations, but the federal government wants to be granted more powers to deny residence permits and carry out deportations itself.
Increasing federal powers
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who outlined the plan last month, said on Thursday that Germany needed a "joint effort" to deport people more expeditiously.
"The number of rejections is increasing, therefore, we need to do more for repatriations and deportations," de Maiziere said on German public broadcaster ARD's Moregenmagazin program.
He also held firm on his position to continue deportations to Afghanistan, which have been criticized by some state governments.
Germany's opposition Green Party criticized the government's plan to establish central departure centers on Thursday.
"This is the wrong approach," Green Party co-chair Simone Peter told German public broadcaster SWR. She argued that the federal government wanted to take on responsibilities that could be more effectively organized at the state level.
She also said Berlin was supposed to present proposals for increasing security measures in Germany, rather than focusing on deportations.
"This goes beyond the original goal," Peters said.
Merkel has been facing pressure to overhaul Germany's security structure ahead of the national election in September and in light of a truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market in December. The main suspect in the attack was rejected asylum-seeker Anis Amri who couldn't be deported as Tunisia did not initially recognize him as a citizen.
rs/sms (AP, AFP, dpa)