Monday 16 September 2019

Merkel must get tougher on migrants, EU chief warns

A mother holds her baby on board a Turkish coastguard ship after they were rescued following a failed attempt at crossing to the Greek island of Lesbos
A mother holds her baby on board a Turkish coastguard ship after they were rescued following a failed attempt at crossing to the Greek island of Lesbos

Melanie Hall

Germany needs to be tougher in the refugee crisis and do more to help secure Europe's external borders, the president of the European Council has warned Angela Merkel.

Donald Tusk praised the German government's readiness to accept hundreds of thousands of migrants, describing its leadership role as "the most liberal and tolerant in European history". However, he urged the German chancellor to do more to control the migrant influx to ensure that the EU's borders are properly protected.

"I understand why, due to historical reasons, Germany may have difficulty setting up a strict regime on its [own] borders," he said ahead of a meeting with Mrs Merkel in Berlin.

"But for Germany, European leadership responsibility also means controlling Europe's external borders - decisively, if necessary - in accordance with pan-European unity."

EU leaders are expected to attend a fifth migrant crisis summit on Thursday, after the EU-Africa conference in Malta on Wednesday, where the discussion will also focus on migration.

Germany has taken in 758,000 asylum seekers up to the end of October, with some estimates putting the number of asylum applications at one million by the end of the year.

The influx has led to a political backlash against the chancellor. Only two days after resolving a coalition dispute over how to manage the migrants, the ruling parties are involved in another row over whether to limit the asylum rights of Syrian refugees.

The government was forced to clarify on Friday that its asylum policy for refugees from Syria remained unchanged after Thomas de Maiziere, Germany's interior minister, said many Syrians would receive a modified refugee status called "subsidiary protection", limiting them to a one-year renewable residence permit instead of three.

Subsidiary protection means migrants are not granted asylum or refugee status and their rights are limited, including not being allowed to bring relations to Germany for two years.

Mr de Maiziere's comments in a radio interview, which he retracted later, have reopened a rift between Mrs Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) and coalition partners the Social Democrats (SPD).

Ralf Stegner, deputy chairman of the SPD, accused the CDU on Saturday of putting forward ill-conceived proposals instead of implementing the decisions agreed by the coalition.

More women and children would undertake the perilous journey from Syria if family reunions were restricted, he said.

Politicians from the CSU backed Mr de Maiziere's proposals, with the party's secretary general, Andreas Scheuer, telling newspaper 'Bild am Sonntag': "Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are getting shelter here, but it must only be subsidiary protection - this means for a limited period and without having family members join them."

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