Germany toughens asylum rules amid migrant surge

Three-year-old Yazem from Aleppo, Syria, holds an umbrella as he stands in front of tents in a refugee camp in Celle.

Three-year-old Yazem from Aleppo, Syria, holds an umbrella as he stands in front of tents in a refugee camp in Celle.

German will toughen up its asylum rules on Saturday, a week ahead of schedule, as it faces an unprecedented number of migrants arriving from Syria and elsewhere.

The new bill, adopted by parliament at exceptional speed, had been expected to take effect on November 1.

But it was published in the country’s legal gazette on Friday, which means it will become operational on Saturday.

Peter Altmaier, the minister coordinating the government’s asylum policy, told ARD television that the move was “a signal” to would-be asylum seekers.

Germany has become Europe’s top destination for refugees, most of whom travel through Turkey and the Balkans.

It is expecting to receive up to a million migrants this year, after around 200,000 in 2014.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has attempted to rally Germans to the task of welcoming hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and persecution.

However she now faces a backlash for her open-door policy and has seen her approval rating fall in the process.

The new law seeks to restrict the right of political asylum to exceptional cases for nationals from Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo.

These three Balkan nations will be added to the list of “safe” countries, meaning their citizens will not normally be eligible for political asylum.

Furthermore the multiple cash allowances available to asylum seekers while their cases are being processed will be replaced by benefits in kind, in a bid to make Germany a less attractive destination for migrants.

In addition, expulsion procedures for those denied asylum will be accelerated.

“We want to improve and we want to improve quickly, as early as this year, as regards expelling asylum seekers who do not the right to remain here,” said Altmaier.

Meanwhile agreement appears to be emerging within Merkel’s coalition government for setting up a string of “transit zones” on Germany’s borders to allow would-be refugees who do not fulfil asylum criteria, such as economic migrants, to be moved out easily and quickly.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere spoke of “an agreement in principle” on the idea, while stressing that there were still details to be clarified.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD), part of Merkel’s left-right coalition, have long opposed the idea of refugee “camps” but have finally agreed to the scheme, while stressing migrants should be housed in existing buildings.

The SPD has had to take into account the growing unrest at the influx. The surge in arrivals has fueled xenophobia and crimes against refugee shelters, including arson.

Security experts are bracing for a rise in unrest, with domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen warning in late September of a radicalization of rightwing groups and “a greater willingness to use violence” by all extremist groups.

The western city of Cologne is bracing for a demonstration by far-right extremists and football hooligans on Sunday, with thousands of officers to be deployed to prevent a repeat of clashes which left 44 riot police injured last year.


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