Bavaria’s tough asylum policy gains support across Germany

Isolated in Berlin, gaining support in other parts of Germany, Horst Seehofer hopes to toughen the asylum procedure for applicants from the Balkans. [Campact/Flickr]

Horst Seehofer’s confrontational policy against asylum seekers from Balkan states sparked protest in Berlin. But now a growing number of Germany states and municipalities are calling for a tougher approach. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Bavarian State Prime Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) has received considerable criticism recently over his decision to move asylum seekers from the Balkans into separate reception centres. His intention to have their applications processed in an expedited procedure has also been met with fierce opposition.

“Mr. Seehofer should know that harassment of refugees is not to be made in a government with the Social Democratic Party,” said deputy SPD chairman Ralf Stegner. He accused Seehofer of stirring up negative sentiment towards migrants and being partially responsible for the drastic increase in attacks on refugee centres.

“Sharp tones like those from Bavaria accusing refugees of large-scale asylum abuse are escalating the debate in an irresponsible way,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who also belongs to the SPD.

Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the chief of the Green Party’s parliamentary group, accused Seehofer of “cynicism”. “Asylum seekers are being beaten up, their residences are burning – in Bavaria as well. And two days later Seehofer wants to pursue deterrence policy,” she told the Stuttgarter Zeitung on Tuesday (21 July).

Right step” towards easing the burden

But support for Seehofer’s proposals is growing in German states and municipalities. “This is clearly a step that could ease the burden on municipalities,” said the managing director of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, Gerd Landsberg.

One must ensure that for asylum seekers from Balkan countries, the “attraction of the German asylum system becomes as minimal as possible”, Landsberg said.

Wolfgang Bosbach, Chairman of the Bundestag’s Internal Affairs Committee, who hails from the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), called Bavaria’s plans “useful measures”.

The Bavarian cabinet decided on Monday (20 July) to create two facilities as close to the border as possible. The two are exclusively intended to house asylum applicants from Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and so-called safe countries of origin including Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

>> Read: Poverty spurs mass migration from Kosovo

The cabinet meeting report indicated that ivoluntary departure support will be implemented immediately. “Voluntary departure will be both possible and encouraged at any time,” the document reads. As a rule, previously rejected applicants will be sent away after two weeks.

The plan intends to help asylum seekers who need protection while preventing asylum abuse, Seehofer said on Monday in the Bavarian parliament.

Support from Green State Prime Minister

Baden-Wuerttemberg State Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann, a member of the Green Party, has taken Bavaria’s side in the asylum debate.

Kretschmann expressed his willingness to discuss categorising more Balkan countries as “safe countries of origin”.

“If the Federal Government demonstrates that it would be useful and have some benefit, I am open to it,” he said.

State Prime Minister of Lower Saxony Stephan Weil (SPD) demanded that asylum applications from Balkan refugees be processed much more quickly.

“We have a group whose application for asylum has a 99% chance of being rejected and another for whom the likelihood of receiving asylum is 99%,” he said in the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung. “But if both groups wait on the decision for two years, then something is fundamentally wrong with the system,” he contended.

Very clearly” no prospect of staying

Meanwhile North Rhine-Westfalia’s Internal Affairs Minister Ralf Jäger hopes to “make it very clear to [asylum seekers from the Balkans] that they have no prospect of staying here”. But one can “take a clear course without frightening off refugees,” a spokesman indicated in Düsseldorf.

Bavaria has been pushing to include Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro in this category for some time. About 40% of all people who seek asylum in Germany come from the six non-EU states in southern Europe.

Their applications were almost always rejected by German authorities in recent years. But the process takes almost nine months and initial reception centres and processing authorities in many parts of Germany are overwhelmed. Relief is not expected until one year from now, when approval authorities could hire more employees and the backlog of applications can be processed.

Pro Asyl calls for more asylum for Balkan refugees

On the other hand, the refugee rights organisation Pro Asyl has said it considers Bavaria’s proposals to be unconstitutional and incompatible with EU law. Pro Asyl contends that the high rate of rejection for asylum applicants from the Western Balkans is unjustified.

“It is wrong to say that these people generally come from safe countries,” deputy director of Pro Asyl Bernd Mesovic told the news agency AFP on Wednesday (22 July).

Though bad economic conditions, alone, are not legal grounds for asylum, a certain part of the population in these countries is exposed to “large-scale injustices”, Mesovic continued.

A significant share of asylum seekers from the Balkans are Roma. In March of this year, of the 690 persons from Bosnia-Herzegovina who applied for asylum in Germany, 407 were Roma. 2833 came from Serbia, including 2525 Roma. Of the 1186 Macedonians who applied for asylum in March, 644 were Roma.

Numerous persons from the Western Balkans have good reason to leave their countries of origin, Mesovic pointed out. In other European countries the acceptance rates for asylum seekers from Kosovo, he said, are around 40% (Switzerland, Finland) and for applicants from Serbia at 37% (Switzerland).

Bosnian asylum applicants enjoy a 20% rate of approval in France and Belgium, and Albanians, 18% in the United Kingdom.

According to Frontex, a record 12,000 attempts at illegal border crossings were registered on the Serbian-Hungarian border in December 2014, with Kosovars accounting for 40% of that number. The trend, Frontex states, is explained by rumors among the Kosovo population that France’s decision to remove Kosovo from the list of safe countries of origin would facilitate getting asylum in the EU country.

Kosovo declared independence in February 2008. 22 EU member states have recognized it so far. Kosovo has around two million inhabitants, predominantly Albanians.

In October 2013, the European Union initiated negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Kosovo. The agreement was signed in July 2014, and will be adopted by the European Council.

In May 2012, Brussels launched a structural dialogue on the rule of law with Pristina, as the dialogue on liberalizing the visa regime for Kosovars officially kicked off several months prior, in January.

The European Union has a judicial and police mission in Kosovo, EULEX.

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