Under-fire Merkel defends migration policy
By Eszter Zalan
German chancellor Angela Merkel stood by her open-door policy towards asylum seekers in an interview on Sunday (28 August) and urged EU members that have refused to take in people to accept refugees.
“It doesn’t work for some countries to say: ‘We don’t want to have Muslims at all, even if it’s necessary for humanitarian reasons,’” Merkel told German broadcaster ARD.
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The German chancellor spent last week talking to European leaders, including those of the Visegrad countries - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - who have been reluctant to take in refugees.
Merkel hinted she could accept changes to the quota system to distribute 160,000 refugees across EU countries, but emphasised that all member countries should take part in sharing the burden of the migration crisis.
Merkel faces regional elections this weekend and a general election next year, with a new poll indicating that half of Germans do not want her to seek a fourth term.
The poll, in Bild am Sonntag newspaper, suggested 50 percent opposed her running for another term and 42 percent supported her, which represents a drop in her support since last year.
Merkel has not yet said if she will run, with an announcement possible at her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party congress in December.
CDU politicians plan to gather on Thursday to talk about strategy. While support for the party has slid amid the migration crisis, it still leads coalition partner Social Democrats (SPD) in the polls.
SPD’s call for a cap
But even within the coalition there are now calls for limiting migration and criticism for Merkel’s welcoming policy.
The centre-left SPD leader and vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel on the weekend for the first time suggested a cap on migration.
“We always said that it's inconceivable for Germany to take in a million people every year,” Gabriel said in an interview on Saturday.
“There’s something called an upper limit to the country’s integration ability,” he added on Sunday.
Bavaria's Finance Minister Markus Soeder from Merkel’s sister party, Christian Social Union (CSU), suggested that a large number of refugees should be sent back to their countries of origin.
He told Der Spiegel magazine that it would not be possible to successfully integrate so many people from a completely different cultural background.
Merkel in her interview emphasised policies that would make it tougher for migrants to stay, and praised the EU’s Turkey deal aimed at stopping the flow of people.
In an effort to win back voters she also hinted at tax cuts.
She reached out to Germans of Turkish descent, saying: "I keep saying that I'm their chancellor too and I think it's important to profess that, and it's good if that is reciprocated by commitment to our country and not by bringing conflicts from Turkey to Germany."
Germany is home to roughly 3 million people of Turkish origin.
Merkel will hit the campaign trail on Monday in Schwerin, the capital of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where local elections take place this weekend with the right-wing, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) expected to make a strong showing.
Not a million
Meanwhile Germany’s head of migration said the country took fewer than the previously stated 1.1 million refugees in 2015.
The head of Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) told told Bild am Sonntag on Sunday that “it is certain that less than one million people came to Germany last year”.
Frank-Juergen Weise said some people had been registered twice, and others had moved on to other destinations.
Weise said he expected a maximum of 300,000 asylum seekers to arrive this year.
He also added that 70 percent of the migrants who had arrived were fit for employment but said that the majority of them would be dependent on basic social security.