Germany strikes refugee deal to limit kin entry, send North Africans back


Germany’s governing coalition reached a deal Thursday to end prolonged squabbling over measures to streamline its handling of the migrant influx, a result that means some Syrians may face a longer wait to bring relatives to Germany.

The agreement foresees that refugees who didn’t face “immediate personal persecution” won’t be allowed to bring relatives to join them for two years, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said after meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bavaria’s governor, Horst Seehofer.

The coalition also plans to declare Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia safe countries of origin, Gabriel said, making it easier to send migrants back to those countries. Germany did the same last year for several Balkan nations whose citizens are barely ever granted asylum.

The package of measures, which was first tentatively agreed in early November, also foresees using special centers to quickly progress migrants who have little realistic chance of winning asylum. It has been held up since then as Merkel’s and Seehofer’s conservative parties squabbled with Gabriel’s center-left Social Democrats over who should initially be blocked from bringing relatives to Germany.

The Social Democrats had taken the November agreement to mean that only a few people who receive “subsidiary protection” — a status that falls short of formal asylum — would face a two-year wait to be able to have relatives join them.

But the conservatives then argued that many Syrians — some of whom came to Germany from neighboring countries rather than directly from Syria — should get that status. Germany resumed closer checks of Syrians’ cases at the beginning of the year.

Germany registered nearly 1.1 million people as asylum-seekers last year, among them nearly 430,000 Syrians. It is keen to ensure that this year’s numbers are lower.

Gabriel said that about 20 percent of Syrians whose asylum applications have yet to be processed could be given “subsidiary protection” status, based on past experience.

But in the future, still-to-be-negotiated quotas for bringing in refugees from Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, family members of people already in Germany — including those granted that status — will be given priority, he added.

The deal still needs Cabinet and parliamentary approval.

German officials also have long stressed the importance of making sure that migrants who don’t gain asylum leave the country. Merkel said later Thursday that Germany’s federal and state governments will discuss “how we can conduct returns better and faster.”

Merkel said her government will work “country by country” with migrants’ countries of origin to move the issue forward. “We want those with prospects of remaining to be integrated, but we also want to say that we need those who have no prospect of remaining to return,” she said.

Earlier this week, the Cabinet approved measures meant to make it easier to deport foreign criminals — a separate package that ministers drew up amid outrage over New Year’s Eve assaults in Cologne blamed largely on foreigners.

Germany’s coalition partners agreed new measures Thursday to tighten asylum policies in an effort to stem an unprecedented influx of migrants, notably by making it easier to send back arrivals from North Africa and by delaying family reunifications.

The measures are part of a package announced by Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats, after a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democrats and Horst Seehofer of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union.

The tough new restrictions are intended to reduce the number of asylum seekers in Germany, which saw an influx of around 1.1 million migrants and refugees in 2015.

Under the new rules, some migrants will be blocked from bringing their families to join them in Germany for two years, Gabriel said.

The measure would apply to migrants who currently qualify for “subsidiary protection,” a status just below that of refugee which is granted to some rejected asylum seekers who still cannot be expelled because they risk torture or the death penalty in their own country.

The move is expected to also affect some Syrians who had enjoyed an almost automatic right to asylum in Germany but for whom individual scrutiny of their applications was reintroduced on Jan. 1.

Germany will also add Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to the list of “safe countries of origin,” Gabriel said, meaning that their nationals would have little chance of winning asylum.

The different measures “are there and can very quickly be presented to the Cabinet,” Gabriel added.

Berlin hopes that the measure will curb the number of migrants from North Africa, who have arrived in increasing numbers in recent months.

Germany has already classified Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo as safe, after tens of thousands of asylum seekers arrived from there.

The arrivals have since dropped as a result of media campaigns in those countries to explain that the chances of obtaining a residency permit in Germany were minimal.

Calls have multiplied in recent weeks to step up expulsions of migrants from North Africa after a rash of sex assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve blamed by police partly on Algerians and Moroccans.

The attacks had coincided with a sharp rise in asylum requests from those countries.

Berlin is also pressing Algiers and Rabat to take back their nationals who have failed to win asylum, to free up resources to deal with bona fide refugees.