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Merkel's refugee policy comes under scrutiny

October 3, 2015

Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer has voiced renewed criticism towards Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy amid the ongoing migrant crisis. Meanwhile, a reluctant Merkel has begun to address Germany's limitations.

PK Merkel Gabriel zum Umgang mit steigenden Flüchtlingszahlen
Image: AFP/Getty Images/T. Schwarz

Bavarian state leader Horst Seehofer attacked Chancellor Angela Merkel for allowing refugees to freely enter Germany via Austria last month after Hungary had closed its borders at the end of August, hindering refugees to move anywhere else in the European Union.

Merkel had decided in early September to welcome thousands of refugees stuck in Hungary without having them register in Hungary as their first point-of-arrival within the European Union - as was stipulated by EU accords.

Right to asylum

Seehofer, whose Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria forms the sister-party to Merkel Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and therefore constitutes part of Germany's coalition government, said Merkel's handling of the crisis had been a mistake, resulting in Germany attracting further refugees. He added that his party would not support any legal attempts to accommodate further refugees, such as changes to the law designed to allow more people to claim a right to asylum.

But unlike some dissenting voices within his party, such as Bavarian Minister of Finance Markus Söder, Seehofer announced that he did not wish laws to be amended in order to limit the number of migrants allowed to seek asylum. He said the wording of the law was clear with regard to the fundamental right of asylum but added that it only needed to be properly applied. He did, however, plead for a more equitable distribution of refugees across the European Union.

Horst Seehofer
Seehofer's criticism come as his home state, Bavaria, is struggling to accommodate refugees despite being the largest German state by landmassImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"Our party does not require any changes to the basic right to asylum, which would mean amending the German Constitution, and therefore we won't be tolerating any attempts to that end," Seehofer said.

Germany's justice minister, Heiko Maas of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), also said the right to asylum clause had "worked very well for the past 25 years" since it was introduced in its current form in the wake of the German reunification.

"No one should question this law on the Day of German Unity," he said, referring to commemorations underway to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the historic event.

Germany's President Joachim Gauck also stressed the need to show more solidarity with refugees as Germany marked its national holiday.

Changing moods

But even on Germany's national public holiday there appeared to be growing dissent within Chancellor Merkel's grand coalition between CDU/CSU and SPD. The SPD's parliamentary leader, Thomas Oppermann, said Merkel had to realize and clearly communicate Germany's limitations.

"The chancellor has a great responsibility and must show leadership," said Oppermann. "That means she has to say clearly that 1 million refugees this year will leave our resources nearly exhausted."

Merkel's balancing act

But Chancellor Merkel has only begun to entertain the idea of her country's limitations. In her weekly video message, she said that whoever needed protection would get protection in Germany, while stating that Germany could not accept those who arrived in the country "for purely economic reasons."

"We have to be firm about this," Merkel said, for the first time publicly reinforcing statements that Germany could not take in all migrants who wanted to enter the country. Merkel also defended those who expressed concerns about the trend.

Refugees facing police in Austria en route to Germany
Germany expects up to one million refugees by the end of the year, the majority of whom have been entering the country since AugustImage: Alison Langley

"This is something that we've never known to this degree before," the chancellor said. "We suddenly face a war in Syria, which until now we've only followed on television, and now it's turned into something real: There are refugees."

Merkel has revised her open-border policy since the height of the refugee crisis at the beginning of September, reintroducing border patrols and suspending the Schengen zone's free travel provisions for a limited amount of time as part of a soft clampdown on the stream of refugees. However, migrants have continued to be accepted in Germany regardless of border reinforcements, as long as they applied for asylum upon arrival in the country.

ss/sms (dpa, AFP)