Germany moves to toughen asylum rules amid record influx

Refugees jostle as they wait to be registered and provided with accommodation, outside the State Office for Health and Social Issues in Berlin, Germany.
Refugees jostle as they wait to be registered and provided with accommodation, outside the State Office for Health and Social Issues in Berlin, Germany.PHOTO: EPA

BERLIN (AFP) - The German government on Tuesday approved new measures to cope with a record surge in asylum-seekers, including imposing tougher conditions for migrants from the Balkans.

Berlin added Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro to a list of so-called safe origin countries, which will result in swifter deportations for asylum seekers from those states.

The government is also seeking to reduce payouts to asylum seekers. Preference would be to distribute benefits in kind to refugees rather than in cash.

Those with a good chance of winning asylum should also be given integration classes, according to the new measures which will be debated in parliament from Thursday before, pending approval, entering into force on November 1.

But aid organisations have challenged some of the steps, arguing that they constitute human rights violations.

Amnesty International's secretary general in Germany, Selmin Caliskan, warned that asylum seekers from safe origin countries may not be given a fair assessment of their claims.

Germany expects up to one million asylum seekers this year, five times the number seen in 2014.

While voters have largely backed Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy of opening the country's doors to people fleeing countries such as war-ravaged Syria, her popularity has shown signs of slipping in recent weeks amid outspoken criticism of her by members of her ruling conservative bloc.

Support for her conservatives slipped to a one-year low of 38.5 per cent, hit by voters' concerns about Europe's refugee crisis, a poll showed on the same day.

Merkel has drawn criticism, especially among conservatives, for fuelling the influx by effectively giving asylum seekers the green light to come to Germany. Towns and cities in Europe's biggest economy are struggling to cope with 800,000 refugees and migrants escaping war and poverty expected this year.

The INSA poll, conducted for Bild daily, showed a one percentage point decline for the conservatives from a week ago.

The Social Democrats (SPD), who share power with Merkel in a right-left coalition, were also down one point at 23.5 per cent. That takes overall support for the "grand coalition" to its lowest level since the last election two years ago.

"The refugee crisis is causing problems above all for the conservative camp and the grand coalition is weaker than ever,"INSA chief Hermann Binkert told Bild daily. The radical Left party gained half a point to 10.5 per cent, the same level as the Greens who were up 1 point. The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) were both unchanged at 6 per cent and 4 per cent respectively.

The next election is due in 2017.