Germany extends border controls until Oct 31 amid record migrant influx

 Migrants queue in the compound outside the Berlin Office of Health and Social Affairs (LAGESO) as they wait to register in Berlin, Germany.
Migrants queue in the compound outside the Berlin Office of Health and Social Affairs (LAGESO) as they wait to register in Berlin, Germany.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (AFP) - Germany, facing a record migrant influx, will extend temporary border controls until the end of October, with a special focus on the Austrian border, the interior ministry said Tuesday.

Berlin, which started to implement the controls on Sept 13, has told the European Commission it will maintain them until Oct 31 as “the situation at the border is such that we cannot do without them”.

“We need to return to an orderly handling of refugee policy,” a ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

In the passport-free Schengen zone of 26 European countries, members can temporarily reinstate border controls with other member states if they cite a security threat or exceptional circumstances.

Members can do so for 10 days and then maintain the controls for “renewable periods” of up to 20 days, for a maximum total of two months.

In Brussels, a European Commission spokesman said that “indeed, we were notified by Oct 9 that this extraordinary measure would be prolonged by a further 20 days”.

Germany, the EU’s top economy, has taken in the largest share of migrants arriving in Europe to escape war and poverty, with total numbers expected to reach 800,000 to one million this year.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged citizens to welcome the newcomers and help to quickly integrate them, but has faced harsh criticism and falling approval ratings amid rising fears about the burden the refugee wave poses for Germany.

In the southern state of Bavaria – the main gateway to Germany for migrants travelling through the Balkans and Austria – state premier Horst Seehofer has proposed setting up ‘transit zones’ where migrants would be held while their asylum claims are assessed.

While Merkel’s conservatives are considering the idea, the centre-left Social Democrats, partners in her coalition government, have voiced scepticism, arguing that the zones would amount to “large detention centres in no man’s land”.

The Commission spokesman said that “the concept of transit zones is something that is indeed foreseen under EU rules. In practice, they are currently used at airports.

“Transit zones allow you to control who enters the territory and, in an accelerated procedure, to filter out those clearly not entitled to international protection.”