May 8, 2015 / 5:54 PM / 2 years ago

German government to speed up asylum process but puts off aid decision

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and leaders of Germany’s powerful regions agreed on Friday to speed up processing of asylum applications but put off a decision on increasing support for towns and cities struggling with a surge in refugees.

The government expects the number of people seeking asylum to double this year to 400,000 - a record high for Germany - and has promised states and communities 1 billion euros in support in 2015 and 2016. State leaders want Merkel to double the aid.

A decision on that was postponed until June 18.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters officials would create 2,000 jobs to speed up the processing of asylum applications and said those from regions generally deemed ineligible such as the Balkans should be sent home faster.

“We want to speed up the process so that decisions can be made and executed within weeks,” he said. Those from more troubled regions such as Syria who are likely to be granted asylum should get integration assistance faster.

Merkel said it was not clear how measures would be financed.

The influx of refugees, many of whom are fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, has led to tensions in some regions of Germany that have occasionally erupted into violence against immigrants by suspected neo-Nazis.

Earlier this year thousands of Germans took to the streets in marches organized by anti-Islam and anti-immigration group PEGIDA in Dresden but its support has since waned.

Germany’s states, which are obliged to take in a certain percentage of refugees based on their population, had criticized the federal government’s earlier estimate for the number of asylum seekers as too low.

Separately, a German naval ship “Hessen” rescued about 200 refugees in a wooden boat on Friday in the Mediterranean about 250 km south of Lampedusa, a Defence Ministry spokesman in Berlin said. They were taken to a port in Italy.

Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Gareth Jones

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