News Europe

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Germany drops controversial 'transit zone' plan for migrants

Justin Huggler Berlin

Germany has dropped controversial plans to hold asylum-seekers in airport-style border "transit zones" while their applications are considered.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has announced it will instead set up special "reception centres" inside Germany with fast-track procedures for those considered unlikely to be granted asylum.

Under the new system, asylum-seekers from countries considered safe will have their applications decided in as little as a week. Those who are rejected will be deported and banned from re-entering Germany.

"Overall, we have taken a good, important step," Mrs Merkel said, announcing the new policy at a joint press conference with the leaders of her two coalition partners, Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democrats and Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Mr Seehofer put a brave face on the decision, describing it as "good" and "a great opportunity to win the trust of the people for this policy".

But it was a significant defeat for the Bavarian state prime minister, who had demanded transit zones on the border, where all asylum-seekers would be held compulsorily until their applications were decided.

Under the agreement, only asylum-seekers whose claims are thought unlikely to succeed will be sent to the new reception centres.

They are expected to include migrants from the Balkans, and from areas of Afghanistan unaffected by fighting with the Taliban.

They will not be obliged to stay at the centres while their claims are processed, but will lose access to benefits if they leave. According to official figures, 77,000 claims have been rejected out of 362,000 applications. Another 42,000 have not been granted asylum or leave to remain for "other reasons".

Syrians make up the majority of asylum claims in Germany.

The decision is a victory for Ms Merkel, who has refused to back down from her open-door refugee policy despite falling public support, and for Mr Gabriel, who opposed the border transit zones.

It was welcomed by state governments around Germany, which have been struggling to cope with the refugee influx.

"I'm relieved we've found a compromise," Malu Dreyer, the state prime minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, said. "The enclosed reception centres are an important step to getting our system more organised. The other thing is, we need faster procedures in general."

"Only by working together in close cooperation can the federal and state governments meet the challenge of the high number of refugees," Olaf Scholz, the mayor of Hamburg, said.

But the new policy was condemned by opposition parties. Simone Peter, the leader of the Green Party, described it as "unacceptable harassment and an attack on the rights of asylum seekers".

Irish Independent

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