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Checks at land borders proposed; Berlin beefs up asylum rules

Four lifeguards from Barcelona, Spain, working as volunteers, help disembarking a dinghy as migrants and refugees arrive from the Turkish coasts to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos
Four lifeguards from Barcelona, Spain, working as volunteers, help disembarking a dinghy as migrants and refugees arrive from the Turkish coasts to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos

BERLIN, Sept 30, (Agencies): Germany could in future check asylum claims as migrants arrive at its land borders, the way it already does at airports, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere proposed Wednesday. He stressed that the cabinet had not yet signed off on the idea, but said his ministry was drafting legislation that would be in line with EU rules, speaking on Berlin public radio RBB. “We know this already from airport procedures. You can already hold someone at an airport, check whether his asylum request is obviously unfounded and send him back,” the minister said. De Maiziere said he was thinking of a similar procedure at land crossings, which would bring Germany in line with EU directives, adding that “this will now surely be debated”. He did not provide details of the plan — notably regarding the infrastructure that would be needed to carry out land border controls. Germany, the EU’s top destination for people fleeing war and misery, in mid-September temporarily reintroduced such checkpoints on land crossings, especially with Austria, to stem and control the huge influx.

The month of September saw an alltime record of 170,000 migrant arrivals into Bavaria, and Germany expects to take in up to one million migrants altogether this year. The conservative CSU party ruling the southern state of Bavaria, the main gateway, has urged the establishment of “transit zones” where asylum-seekers could be quickly registered or rejected. The German government on Tuesday 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 migrants, with a preference for distributing benefits in kind to refugees rather than cash. Those with a good chance of winning asylum should also be given integration classes, according to the new measures that would, pending approval, enter into force on Nov 1.

Germany on Tuesday toughened rules for asylum seekers from the Balkans as Europe struggled to cope with a surge in migrants, with new figures showing more than half a million have crossed the Mediterranean this year. Berlin added Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro to a list of so-called safe countries, so people claiming asylum from those states can be deported more swiftly to free up resources for refugees from war-torn countries like Syria. Germany’s previous open-door policy to Syrians has sparked clashes with some eastern EU member states, in particular Hungary, which has taken a harsher approach and sealed its borders to migrants. Budapest, which has drawn wide criticism for its hardline approach, on Tuesday went a step further saying it would put forward proposals for global migrant quotas at a UN conference.

The tensions came as the number of migrants arriving via the Mediterranean showed no signs of abating, with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) saying that 515,000 arrived so far this year. About half are escaping Syria’s civil war, which has topped the agenda of the UN General Assembly in New York this week, and where Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was holding a meeting on the refugee crisis Wednesday. Reflecting the scale of the issue, the G7 group of leading economies and Gulf states pledged $1.8 billion in funding Tuesday for UN aid agencies helping Syrian refugees. As part of that, Berlin said it would give an additional 100 million euros ($113 million) to improve assistance for refugees in their home regions. Germany has already committed billions of euros to helping asylum seekers, but with between 8,000 and 10,000 migrants arriving daily in Europe’s biggest economy in the past four days, it is now looking to discourage economic migrants from clogging up the system.

“We want to send a clear signal to those (who are not fleeing war), don’t come here, you have no chance, you will have to leave our country,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. Berlin will reduce payouts to migrants, and seek to distribute benefits in kind rather than in cash to refugees. In the first six months of 2015, about 40 percent of asylum-seekers in Germany came from the Balkans, even though their chances of getting asylum was less than one percent. Europe is also facing a tide of people making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, where the UNHCR said some 2,980 have perished or disappeared this year. Highlighting the dangers, the Italian coastguard said it had coordinated the rescue Monday of 1,151 migrants in 11 separate operations off the coast of Libya. At the other side of the continent, a 20-year-old Iraqi was found dead Tuesday in a lorry near the French port of Calais, crushed by pallets as he tried to reach Britain.

The discovery of the decomposing bodies of 71 people in a truck at the side of an Austrian motorway in August highlighted the dangers faced by migrants trying to get into Europe. On Tuesday, a Bulgarian court ruled that a 32-year-old man arrested shortly after the tragedy would be extradited to Austria, charged with the negligent manslaughter of migrants plus belonging to a criminal gang.

Meanwhile, refugees coming to Germany can expect a roof over their head, a bed to sleep in and three meals a day. But with authorities struggling to find housing for tens of thousands of people each month, many new arrivals will find their lodgings a squeeze. Smaller, in fact, than what’s permitted for a German shepherd dog. An Associated Press survey has found that several of Germany’s 16 states have waived the usual rules expected of communal housing. As a result, migrants in some parts of Germany are finding themselves living in cramped conditions that rights groups say are unfit for human habitation.

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