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Steinmeier defends idea of extending 'safe countries' list

August 9, 2015

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has justified the idea of extending a list of "safe countries of origin." The status makes it more difficult for Balkan migrants to be granted asylum in Germany.

Steinmeier außenminister wien
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/EPA/H. Punz

"The idea of extending the safe countries of origin to (further) countries in the western Balkans must not be a taboo," Steinmeier said in Berlin on Saturday.

The comments came amid an ongoing political debate, particularly among members of his Social Democrats (SPD), about how to cope with an unprecedented number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East or Africa.

But statistics show that a large number of the migrants who have arrived in Germany this year are not from places of armed conflict, but from the Balkans.

"We can only maintain the acceptance of the people of Germany for taking in people in need if we also work on credible efforts to speed up proceedings and provide clarity for those who have no chance of asylum," the foreign minister added.

Steinmeier was speaking just days after SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel, along with the state premiers in SPD-led German states, drew up proposals for easing the flow of refugees.

One proposal is to make it easier for people from the western Balkans to enter Germany legally. This would allow people from the region to obtain work visas for Germany if they can produce a written job offer that would pay them above a certain minimum income.

The other main proposal is to extend the list of safe countries of origin to include Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro, just months after Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia were added. This would make it more difficult for people from those countries to enter Germany, although the number of successful asylum applicants from those countries is negligible anyway.

Dissenting voices

However, some prominent Social Democrats continue to oppose the idea. Lars Castellucci, a member of the Bundestag's committee on domestic and European policy, slammed the proposal in an open letter to Gabriel published in Saturday's edition of the daily "Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung."

Castellucci charged that proponents of the idea were using the parliamentary summer break to avoid uncomfortable debate about the issue. He said that the support for the idea was premature, as it came in the absence of a proper evaluation of the effectiveness of declaring countries safe.

He also said supporting the idea amounted to an unnecessary concession to conservative Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer.

Guntram Schneider, the SPD's minister of integration in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia also criticized the idea.

"If we want to curb the waves of migration, we have to work to help change the conditions in these countries," he said, noting that human rights needed to be applied to minority groups like the Sinti and Roma.

pfd/bk (dpa, Reuters, EPD, AFP)