Friday

23rd Feb 2018

Germany makes U-turn on Syria refugees

  • Migrants sleep in Budapest train station, en route to Germany (Photo: Michael Gubi)

Germany announced Tuesday (10 November) it is again applying Dublin rules on asylum for Syrian refugees.

The move is a U-turn on a migration policy followed since August as well as a new indicator of tension in chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition.

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The interior ministry told German media that since 21 October, authorities are "applying the Dublin regulation for all countries of origin and all member states (except Greece)."

That means migrants are sent back to the first country in which they entered the EU and where their asylum application must be examined.

This does not apply to Greece, where reception capacities are stretched and living conditions for migrants are deemed too poor.

The decision is a reversal of a step, taken in August, to suspend Dublin rules for Syrians, in a move criticised by some EU capitals for acting as a pull factor for more refugees to come.

Germany is expecting to receive between 800,000 and 1 million asylum claims this year. The IFO economic institute said Tuesday that housing, feeding, educating and health-care for the migrants would cost €21.1 billion in 2015.

The impact of the latest U-turn is unclear for now, as the interior ministry did not specify whether it would start sending back migrants to Austria, Hungary, or Croatia.

It said it would take decisions on a case-by-case basis, and evaluate whether sending migrants back to other EU countries is a "realistic possibility".

Limited possibilities

The announcement came as a surprise for MPs from both Merkel's CDU party and its SPD ally, as well as for the head of the federal migration office.

It suggests new cracks in the government, only days after a compromise was found between the CDU, its Bavarian sister party CSU and the SPD on how face the influx of migrants.

On Friday (6 November), interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said that Syrians would be granted "secondary protection" only and that family reunification would be suspended for two years.

The decision was later denied by the government.

But on Sunday, the influential finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, expressed his support for de Maiziere and said Germany should end its "open door" policy.

"We need to send a clear message to the world: We are very much prepared to help. We've shown that we are. But our possibilities are also limited," he said in an interview with ARD television.

Early October, De Maiziere, a supporter of a tougher policy on migrants, has been stripped of responsibility for coordinating the government response to the crisis. He now seems to take initiatives that contradict Merkel's general orientations.

De Maiziere's new move on Dublin puts Merkel in an awkward position with her Social-Democrat allies, who criticised it, as well as with some parts of her own party.

The new rift comes as the CDU comes under pressure from anti-immigrant movements in Germany.

A poll published by Bild newspaper Tuesday showed a new fall in popularity for the CDU, while the anti-euro and anti-immigration AfD party reached 10 percent of voting intention for the first time.

No transit zones on German borders for now

German coalition partners have layed differences to rest over transit zones on the border, with a deal on reception centres inside Germany and faster asylum decisions.

EU diplomat voices concern on Syria children

EU countries must redouble efforts to get Syrian children back to school, or risk a generation more prone to radical ideas, a senior European diplomat has warned

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The UN migration agency (IOM) had planned to help return and reintegrate 5,000 people from Libya to their home countries, but ended up aiding 20,000 in 2017. The extra demand has piled on the pressure.

Frontex naval operation to look for 'foreign fighters'

The EU border and coast guard agency, or Frontex, has launched a new naval operation called Themis. The operation replaces its surveillance Triton mission but with a bigger emphasis on security and intelligence gathering.

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