Accessibility links

German Debate Over Migrants Reopens Divisions in Government

  • Reuters

Supporters of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) demonstrate against the German government's new policy for migrants in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 7, 2015.

Supporters of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) demonstrate against the German government's new policy for migrants in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 7, 2015.

Just two days after resolving a coalition row over how to handle a record influx of refugees, Germany's ruling parties are embroiled in another spat over whether to limit the asylum rights of refugees from Syria.

The government was forced to clarify on Friday that it’s asylum policy for refugees from Syria remained unchanged after the interior minister said they would receive a modified refugee status and be barred from having family members join them.

But the comments made by Thomas de Maiziere in a radio interview have reopened a rift between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CSU), its Bavarian sister party (CSU) and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners.

Accusations

On Saturday, Ralf Stegner, deputy chairman of the SPD, accused the CDU of making half-baked proposals instead of implementing the decisions agreed on by the coalition.

Restricting family reunions would only mean that more women and children would undertake the dangerous journey from Syria to Europe, he said, adding that the SPD opposed the idea.

"It's off the table as far as the SPD is concerned," Stegner told German radio. "This won't wash with the SPD, and the CDU knows this perfectly well."

However, lawmakers from the CSU, who govern the state of Bavaria which has borne the brunt of the refugee influx, backed de Maiziere's proposals.

"Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are getting shelter here, but it must only be subsidiary protection - this means for a limited period and without having family members join them," Andreas Scheuer, the secretary general of the Christian Social Union (CSU) told Bild am Sonntag.

Subsidiary protection means migrants are not granted asylum or refugee status and their rights are limited.

Deportations

The latest row comes after the coalition ended weeks of infighting on Thursday evening on how to speed up the deportation of asylum-seekers who have little chance of being allowed to stay.

It is not the first time de Maiziere, a reserved man who prefers to operate out of the spotlight, has come under attack over his handling of the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants, many of whom are fleeing war in the Middle East.

De Maiziere was lambasted by mass-selling daily Bild earlier this week for taking a short break in Majorca while the government struggled to manage the pace and scale of the influx, which is putting communities under strain.

Last month Merkel appointed her chief of staff Peter Altmaier to oversee the government's handling of the crisis, a move widely viewed as a rebuff to de Maiziere.

Opposition lawmakers kept up the pressure on de Maiziere on Saturday, with Green politician Renate Kuenast calling him a "loose cannon.”

"In this government the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing," said Ulla Jelpke from the opposition Left Party. "The interior minister is treating the chancellor and his coalition partner with disrespect."

Migrants rescued

Elsewhere, the Greek coast guard said Saturday it and European Union border agency Frontex had rescued 383 migrants attempting the short but perilous crossing from Turkey to eastern Greek islands.

There were six separate rescue operations, all on Saturday morning, with five off the island of Lesbos, the refugees' main crossing point, and the other was off the island of Chios, immediately to the south.

Also, Greek officials said, for the first time in 11 days, no refugees died overnight in the crossing between the Turkish mainland and the eastern Greek islands.

In Germany, an anti-immigration party staged a march in Berlin against the German government's migrant policies, with protesters chanting "Merkel must go!" and counter-protesters shouting "Nazis out!"

Alternative for Germany, which isn't represented in the national parliament but has seats in several regional legislatures, staged Saturday's rally. Police estimated 5,000 people took part in the Berlin march and 800 in counter-demonstrations.

They deployed 1,100 officers to prevent clashes and used pepper spray at one point but said there otherwise were no significant incidents.

Germany has seen 758,000 asylum-seekers arrive between January and October this year.

Some material for this report came from AP.

Show comments

XS
SM
MD
LG