Germany to toughen restrictions on Syrian refugees

Under new proposals, Syrian refuges in Germany might have to wait two years before their families can gain asylum. [Freedom House/Flickr]

Germany wants to send more Syrian refugees back to other EU countries, an idea supported by many in the CDU, but heavily criticised by the SPD. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The German government wants to change the rules that apply to Syrian refugees. The so-called Dublin Regulation, which obliges refugees to apply for asylum in the first EU country they arrive in, will also be brought back into force for Syrian refugees, the German interior ministry and the Federal Agency of Migration and Refugees (BAMF) announced on Tuesday (10 November).

With this decision, the Christian Democrat (CDU) Minister for the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, will reverse the controversial decision made by Chancellor Angella Merkel in August, which brought her much criticism from across Europe, as well as from within her own party.

Under the proposed new process, the BAMF will examine each case individually, to decide whether the person in question has the right to apply for asylum in Germany. It will also examine the possibility of transferring the asylum seeker to another EU country. Due to the numbers of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe, Germany stopped sending them back to other EU countries on 25 August.

The BAMF even published a post on Twitter at the end of August, confirming that the Dublin regulation was “effectively no longer active”. Other EU countries, as well as some of Angela Merkel’s coalition partners, have argued that this was interpreted worldwide as an invitation and have blamed it for the surge in refugee numbers in the weeks that followed.

According to a spokesperson for Germany’s interior ministry, the newly proposed Dublin Regulation would not lead to refugees being turned away at the borders, but the ministry has promised to clarify the question of which country should be responsible for their asylum applications.

>>Read: All eyes on Germany as refugee exodus continues

Under this proposal, no refugees will be sent back to Greece, regardless of whether they first arrived there, as the country is already severely burdened by the refugee crisis.

Last week de Maizière had already decided to return to a system of case by case examinations with oral interviews for Syrian refugees. Many refugees would then only be entitled to the most basic protection for one year, and following a recent decision by the governing coalition, would also have had to wait two years before members of their family could join them. On the instruction of the Chancellery, the Interior Minister was forced to shelve this plan.

But other prominent Christian Democrat politicians supported de Maizières’ suggestion. Gera Hasselfeldt, the chair of the CSU (the Bavarian Christian Social Union, partners of the CDU) delegation in the Bundestag, believes this change is needed because the authorities are now finding more and more errors in the information provided on the written asylum documents. The leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Michael Grosse-Brömer, added that it would send a strong signal to the refugees’ countries of origin.

The leader of the Bundestag’s Social Democrat (SPD) delegation, Thomas Oppermann, stressed that the SPD had “no desire to discuss” the issue. He warned that this plan would cause serious problems for the Grand Coalition, and that what was needed was “a minimum of reliability”.

At a time when Germany’s backlog of asylum applications already numbers in the hundreds of thousands, the SPD argues that de Maizière’s suggestion would make the system even more inefficient and costly. “Making plans like this is highly irresponsible,” said Oppermann.

>>Read: Germany to take 7,200 refugees a day

De Maizière’s (CDU) handling of the refugee crisis has increased resentment among his SPD coalition partners. SPD Vice-President and Family Affairs Minister Manuela Schwesig warned that if it was not possible for family members to join their relatives once the asylum process was complete, more women and children would be forced onto the dangerous migrant routes. This would only increase the numbers of migrants at the borders.

“We will examine and evaluate the latest announcements from Mr de Maizière in our own time,” SPD politician Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel told the Passauer Neue Presse. Schäfer-Gümbel criticised the minister’s communication strategy, saying “the daily clanger from de Maizière doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the government’s competence”.

Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of the SPD, called de Maizière’s plans “adventurous”. “We cannot have Angela Merkel on the one hand inviting people, and her party on the other hand saying their children have to stay out.” Oppmann warned that the coalition government would be put under serious strain if this struggle within the CDU/CSU was not resolved.

Volker Kauder, the CDU’s parliamentary group leader, tried to relieve the tension and lower the Christian Democrats’ expectations. With one eye on the high number of open cases being examined by the BAMF, he said, “It is often the case that concentrating a task – namely reverting back to making decisions on a case by case basis – will not lead to the backlog being cleared any faster.”

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