Toughened German asylum law comes into effect early

2015-10-24 20:33

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Berlin/Brussels - Toughened rules governing asylum requests to stay in Germany came into effect on Saturday, a week earlier than planned.

Under the rules, asylum seekers will be required to spend longer in reception centres and receive allowances in kind rather than cash, while people arriving from Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania will face quicker repatriation because their origin countries have been deemed safe.

The measures were initially expected to go into effect November 1. But German lawmakers rushed the new rules through parliament because a wave of hundreds of thousands of migrants did not seem to be letting up.

Estimates of asylum requests expected vary between 800 000 and 1.5 million for Germany this year, up from just more than 200,000 in 2014.

Starting now, immigration officers will not announce when they intend to repatriate a failed applicant to prevent them from absconding.

The law also hopes to speed up the procedure for applicants who are likely to be successful and offer them integration courses even before a final decision has been made regarding their status.

There are deep divisions within the centre-left Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partner over the setting up of so-called "transit zones" on the country's borders in order to send back those with no hope of asylum more quickly.

While Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who belongs to the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said on Friday that there was wide agreement between the coalition partners, many SPD politicians have voiced grave concerns about the plan.

"[The transit zones] amount to mass prisons. With the SPD there will never be such a thing," SPD deputy chairman Ralf Stegner told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on Saturday.

The day before, SPD secretary general Yasmin Fahimi told dpa her party would not accept transit zones, but would accept official government "registration offices for arriving asylum seekers" near the border to decide quickly on obviously hopeless cases.

These could be set up in existing buildings, she said.

During a visit to a 5 000-capacity refugee temporary reception centre in a former air force base in the Bavarian town of Erding on Saturday, de Maiziere rejected the idea that the facilities would be prisons.

"There will be no deprivations of freedom," he said, stressing the centres would not look like prisons. He defended the new asylum rules, saying they would facilitate quicker integration, language courses and job prospects for refugees who have a right to stay.

He said that barriers to the faster deportation of migrants with no right to remain had also been removed.

Human rights organisations, opposition politicians, lawyers and migration experts have criticized the new rules.

On Sunday, an emergency meeting convened by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker plans to bring together Germany with nine other EU countries to discuss the crisis.

It is believed they will mull the creation of a new border-control mission at the Greek frontier with Albania and Macedonia, according to a draft statement prepared for the talks in Brussels.

The congestion has led to bottlenecks and tensions among Balkan countries, with migrants left out in the mud, rain and cold.

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