Saturday

18th Nov 2017

No transit zones on German borders for now

  • Merkel (c) has managed to maintain her grip on the colaition as her partners compromise on refugee policy (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

Germany’s governing coalition parties diffused tensions over the refugee crisis on Thursday (5 November) in a deal to set up five migrant reception centres inside the country and to speed up asylum procedures and deportations.

The Social Democrats (SPD), the junior coalition partners to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, rejected the idea of transit zones on the Austrian border, claiming they would amount to detention camps.

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Instead, the coalition agreed to set up five reception centers within Germany, which would hold migrants from countries deemed safe, mainly from the Balkans, and those refusing to co-operate with asylum laws.

Migrants would not be detained, in a concession won by the SPD from Merkel, but if they leave the region where the centre is located, they would lose welfare benefits.

"We took a good and important step forward," Merkel said on Thursday.

The issue of transit zones - pushed by the Bavarian prime minister and the harshest internal critic of Merkel’s open-doors policy, CSU leader Horst Seehofer - became a central point of disagreement between the SPD, the conservative CSU, and Merkel's centre-right CDU party.

Earlier talks on Sunday failed to produce a compromise, and tensions escalated within Merkel’s coalition, for whom the refugee crisis presents the biggest challenge in her 10-year rule.

By Thursday coalition partners hit a conciliatory tone, as none of them want the government to fall.

The compromise means a victory for the Social Democrats, a climbdown for rightwingers, and sees Merkel reasserting her control over the coalition.

The agreement reached on Thursday calls for an accelerated asylum process, where cases could be decided in a week, not months, as now, and where appeals would take only a further two weeks.

The coalition partners also agreed to tighten family reunification rules for those who have the right to remain in Germany but do not qualify for international protection.

Their families will have to wait two years to join them.

Returns will also be sped up, as those deemed “economic migrants” would be sent back within three weeks, said Merkel.

The compromise comes as the German interior ministry’s latest figures showed that a record number of 758,000 people have requested refuge in Germany so far this year.

The number will most likely surpass 1 million this year, with 181,000 arriving last month alone.

The agreement between the ruling CDU/CSU alliance and junior coalition partner, the SPD, came as the European Commission said it expected the number of people fleeing war and poverty to Europe to reach 3 million by 2017.

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Ahead of Thursday's difficult talks with her coalition partner on transit zones, Angela Merkel's own party union displays unity on the refugee crisis.

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The interior ministry announced Tuesday it would start sending back Syrian refugees to the country of entry into the EU, taking coalition partners by surprise.

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