BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet agreed a package of measures on Tuesday to help German towns cope with the influx of asylum seekers, as a poll showed her conservatives dipping to a one-year low on concerns about her handling of the crisis.
Merkel has drawn criticism, especially among conservatives, for fuelling the influx by effectively giving asylum seekers the green light to come to Germany. Towns and cities in Europe’s biggest economy are struggling to cope with 800,000 refugees and migrants escaping war and poverty expected this year.
German police said they had registered 5,380 people entering Germany illegally, up from 4,160 on Sunday.
Acknowledging the scale of the problem, the cabinet agreed steps to provide more housing and support for unaccompanied minors, and to speed up processing of asylum applications as well as deporting those who are turned down.
To cover next year’s costs, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble agreed to set aside 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion) in windfall income from this year’s budget.
The government announced last week it would pay 16 federal states 670 euros each month for every asylum seeker they take in, a total of about 4 billion euros. This year, it is doubling the amount available to 2 billion euros.
“Tackling the high numbers of refugees is a top priority for the German government. We want to and must master this huge challenge,” said Schaeuble..
Merkel’s government is struggling to cope with the practicalities of the influx and with the impact on society.
The chancellor’s own popularity has taken a hit over her handling of the crisis and an INSA poll published in Bild showed support for the conservatives dipping one percentage point to 38.5 percent. Her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners were also down one point at 23.5 percent.
“The refugee crisis is causing problems above all for the conservative camp and the grand coalition is weaker than ever,” INSA chief Hermann Binkert told Bild daily.
The radical Left party gained half a point to 10.5 percent, the same level as the Greens who were up 1 point. The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) were unchanged at 6 percent and 4 percent respectively.
Germany has reintroduced border controls with EU neighbors to try to stem the flow after allowing in refugees from Syria who have crossed the continent.
But still, tensions are growing within communities.
German media reported that up to 8,500 people joined a march in Dresden by the anti-Islam PEGIDA group on Monday evening and that a handful of participants punched and kicked two journalists.
The number of attacks and criminal offences committed against refugee shelters has more than doubled this year to 437.
German police arrested 15 asylum seekers on Tuesday suspected of being involved in a fight at their hostel in Suhl, in the eastern state of Thuringia, in August which left 11 people hurt, reported local broadcaster MDR.
Rainer Wendt, head of the police union, said violence within the hostels was a big problem. “Groups come together according to ethnic religious or clan structure and attack each other with knives and home-made weapons,” he told the Passauer Neue Presse.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by David Stamp