Angela Merkel is clamping down on asylum seekers as election nears
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to introduce new measures aimed at speeding up the deportation of failed asylum seekers. The plans come as her party tries to project a tougher line on immigration and border security ahead of elections in September.
Two recent terror attacks in Germany – a truck attack at a Berlin Christmas market and a suicide bombing, the country’s first, in Ansbach – were carried out by migrants whose asylum bids had been rejected but who had not been deported. Both attackers had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Merkel is meeting the leaders of the country’s 16 federal states on Thursday evening to discuss a 16-point plan aimed at addressing shortcomings in the deportation system, which is currently handled at the state level.
According to a report leaked to German media, the measures include:
- A federal center for coordinating deportations across the country
- Exit centers near airports where rejected asylum seekers can be prepared for deportation
- Giving officials access to asylum seekers’ phones to verify their identities
- Increased financial incentives for migrants who return home voluntarily. Germany already pays travel costs and sometimes startup costs for those who choose to return of their own volition
Germany has taken in more than a million migrants and refugees since Merkel declared an “open door” policy at the height of the crisis in 2015, at a time when many European nations were closing their borders.
But following a string of crimes that have soured public attitudes toward migrants – including mass sexual assaults in Cologne, murders. and terror attacks – Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, has sought to take a harder line on immigration, making repatriation of rejected asylum seekers a priority.
“The number of rejections is rising, so we have to do more about repatriations and deportations,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Thursday.
Anti-migrant sentiment has fueled the rise of the populist right-wing Alternative for Germany party, predicted to be a major challenge to the political establishment.
But in recent weeks, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) – which currently governs in a grand coalition with Merkel’s party – has emerged as the biggest obstacle to the chancellor’s hope for a fourth term in office.
Since the SPD announced Martin Schulz, former president of the European Parliament, as its new leader last month, the party has surged in the polls. One recent poll put the SPD ahead of Merkel’s party for the first time, at 31 percent to 30.
Merkel’s center-right party views immigration as an issue it can use to win back voters from the SPD. Five German states controlled by the SPD are trying to block government attempts to return rejected Afghan asylum seekers to their homeland, arguing that the country was too dangerous to send people back to.
Merkel’s government had presented a deal with Afghanistan to accept the returnees as a significant development in addressing the refugee issue.
Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS