Friday 24 November 2017

Merkel faces new rebellion over asylum-seekers policy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Justin Huggler in Berlin

GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing a fresh rebellion over her refugee policy, with more than 40 politicians from her Christian Democrat party reportedly signing a petition to close Germany's borders to asylum-seekers.

The rebels plan to call for a vote on the proposal at the next party meeting, on January 26.

Ms Merkel has come under intense pressure to change her open-door refugee policy since it emerged that asylum-seekers were among the suspects in the New Year's Eve sex attacks in Cologne. More than 650 women have come forward to file criminal complaints over the attacks, around 45pc of them for sexual assault.

"If so many of our party speak out in favour of partial refusal at the border, we should all be able to vote on it," Christian von Stetten, one of the MPs behind the move, told 'Bild' newspaper

The MPs' petition calls for the border to be closed to asylum-seekers "who wish to enter Germany illegally via a safe third country".

In practice, this would include almost all asylum-seekers, as under the EU's controversial Dublin rules, refugees must claim asylum in the first member state they reach.

Germany is already turning away hundreds of migrants a day at its border with Austria under the rules because they want to travel through the country to claim asylum in Denmark or Sweden. But thousands more who say they want to claim asylum in Germany are still allowed to enter despite crossing through other EU member states.

Ms Merkel appeared to have seen off a rebellion with a speech at her party conference last month, in which she cast her decision to open Germany's borders as a temporary measure and pledged to reduce the numbers significantly.

But the Cologne attacks have reopened the debate - and left her looking more isolated than ever.

Peter Tauber, the party's general secretary, has called for Germany's states to deport 1,000 rejected asylum-seekers a day. His call came after it emerged that some of the suspects in the Cologne attacks were migrants whose asylum claims had been rejected but had remained in Germany.

The German authorities reject around 50pc of the 2,000 asylum claims they process each day, but the number who are actually deported is far lower.

"If one in two asylum claims is rejected on average, then the states have a duty to deport 1,000 rejected asylum-seekers a day," Mr Tauber told the 'Rheinische Post' newspaper.

Under German law, asylum-seekers cannot be deported to countries where their lives may be in danger, such as Syria. Many migrants destroy their passports in order to claim they are from Syria, making it hard to determine where they are from. Some countries refuse to accept the return of their citizens.

The mood in the party is "tense", Mr Tauber said, but he defended Ms Merkel's refugee policy.

"We should deal with this great challenge, but it can't go on for ever. That's why we're working to reduce the number of refugees noticeably," he said.

"Hundreds of thousands accept the help gratefully, learn German and want to integrate. For those who don't take that opportunity, the message is: 'You can't stay here'." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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