October 12, 2015 / 6:54 PM / 2 years ago

German conservatives agree on 'transit zones' for refugees

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and her Bavarian allies have agreed on a plan to set up “transit zones” at the border to filter out migrants who clearly have no chance of gaining asylum, Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer said on Monday.

German police officers check the passports of bus passengers in a highway services area on the A93 highway from Austria to Germany, near Kiefersfelden, southern Germany, October 9, 2015. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Seehofer, who heads the Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), said a concrete proposal would be drawn up by the two parties, the Bavarian government and the federal government, this week.

Speaking at a CDU event at the northern city of Stade, Merkel said the idea was to stop directly at the border those people who were coming from countries deemed as safe.

“We’re still in talks,” Merkel added, referring to strong reservations about the proposal among leading Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partner in her coalition.

But Merkel insisted: “It must be clear that Germany is helping those who have a prospect of staying. And those who haven‘t, can’t get help in our country.”

Merkel’s government is aiming to speed up asylum and extradition procedures for migrants from southeastern Europe, in order to focus on war refugees from states such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The coalition therefore aims to widen the list of countries deemed safe, meaning their citizens have no claim to asylum, to include Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro. Among those already in that category are Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia.

With its relatively liberal asylum laws and generous benefits, Germany has become a magnet for many of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

While Merkel has repeatedly said that Germany can cope with the unprecedented influx and will even benefit from it, communities around the country are struggling to house and support the refugees. Her party has slipped in opinion polls.

Bavaria, the point of entry for many of those reaching Germany, said on Friday it was at the limit of its capacity.

A draft bill circulated by the CDU-run Interior Ministry provides for transit zones to hold refugees at border crossings so asylum requests can be examined before they are allowed in.

The bill, which Reuters has seen, says this will allow those whose applications are inadmissible or clearly unfounded to be turned back directly at the border.

This would affect people without papers or with fake documents, migrants from countries deemed “safe”, or those who do not present sufficient reason to justify an asylum request.

However, if a decision could not be made within a week, or accommodation could not be provided at the border, the migrant would be allowed in anyway.

Critics say that what is already possible at airports is not easy to replicate along a land border more than 3,500 km long.

SPD Justice Minister Heiko Mass spoke of “mass holding camps in no man’s land”. “To detain tens of thousands of refugees at the border will cause more problems than it solves,” he told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Thomas Oppermann, head of the SPD parliamentary group, said the plan was “impossible to implement in practice, and wrong in human terms”.

Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber and Reuters TV, writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alison Williams

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