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Germany appears to be setting a new precedent for countries impacted by the European migrant crisis — signaling that it's now willing to suspend European Union (EU) regulations and accept applications from any Syrian asylum seeker who reaches German territory.
The EU's Dublin regulation says that refugees and migrants must be registered in the first European country they enter. If those who have been logged later move on to another country, they must again be returned again to the first place they were fingerprinted.
However, a country can also agree to take on more asylum applications than they are obliged to under a "sovereignty clause."
Germany has issued what appears to be an internal instruction saying that it will now disregard the EU rules when Syrian refugees are involved. Dated August 21, it says that all those fleeing the devastating Syrian conflict will be now allowed to apply for asylum in Germany regardless of whether they have previously been registered.
Edith Avram, a spokesperson for Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, confirmed that the new regulation was now being applied, though she told VICE News it is "a guideline, not a binding formal directive." Germany had already been hesitant to apply the Dublin regulation when dealing with Syrian citizens, Avram said, adding that, by the end of July, Germany had only transferred 131 Syrian citizens to other European countries.
Avram also said that all asylum procedures for Syrian citizens that had not yet been concluded would now be carried out in Germany.
The European country said on August 20 that it expects to receive some 800,000 refugee arrivals this year. By the end of July, Germany had already received 218,221 asylum applications.
The latest move by Germany comes as European leaders continue to grapple and debate about how best to deal with the influx of migrants, and overburdened border countries like Greece and Italy continue to beg for help in easing the pressure they've been put under.
United Nations (UN) figures showed that some 158,000 migrants reached Greece by mid-August this year, while 90,000 arrived in Italy.
Many of those who cross the Mediterranean hope to quickly move on to other countries, and the Dublin regulation means they actively avoid being registered or fingerprinted.
Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch, told VICE News that he felt Germany's decision to ignore the Dublin regulation was a "very positive step."
"It's clear that the Dublin rules place an unacceptable burden on the southern European countries, especially Greece and Italy."
Bouckaert added: "I think it's high time for Europe to have a conversation about how Europe as a whole — and the rest of the world — will help share the burden of the large number of people who are fleeing conflict and repression in the Middle East and Africa. It's clear that simply building walls and trying to shift the burden onto a few countries is not working.
"Europe does have a lot of capacity to absorb migrants and asylum seekers and it's important that every country in Europe — as well as the US and Australia and other countries — share in that burden and stop sending around these alarmist messages about swarms of refugees swamping Europe, which is just not the reality."
Bouckaert noted that Germany has a much stronger economy than Italy and Greece and therefore a "greater capacity to economically absorb these migrants and asylum seekers."
"This is a crisis much more about European countries unwilling to shoulder their share of this burden rather than a crisis about the shared number of refugees… I hope Germany will lead other countries — including the UK — to reconsider their stance, to try and take on their share of this burden and provide people with the opportunity for asylum that they're legally entitled to."
Harle Mar, a Syrian 20-year-old now living in Giessen in Germany's Hesse state, told VICE News that the news of the new German rules had spread quickly through the Syrian community. "It's true," he said. "Finally."
Mar — who has been in Germany for eight months and was recently granted asylum — said that he had Syrian friends who had been fingerprinted "in Hungary, in Spain, in Italy."
They could now apply for asylum in Germany without fear, he said, while adding that this change would definitely act as an incentive for other Syrians to come to Germany, and he'd be encouraging his 24-year-old brother — still in Syria — to follow in his footsteps.
"I think many, many Syrians will try to come." Mar conceded that there is sometimes "tension between cultures" in Germany. "I think this year it will be really bad this year because many [refugees] will come."
However, he added that the expected new arrivals would still only make up a small percentage of the country's total population.
Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd