BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is speeding up measures to tackle its refugee crisis, a top government official said on Friday, allowing accelerated deportations to begin as early as next week.
The tighter rules aim to speed up asylum and extradition procedures for migrants from southeastern Europe, in order to focus on refugees from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Germany expects a record influx of more than 800,000 migrants this year, by far the most in the European Union.
Peter Altmaier, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, said the new measures could now be expected to come into effect before a previously foreseen start date of Nov. 1.
“That would be a good signal,” he told ARD television.
“We want to get better and faster this year at the deportation of rejected applicants who have no claim to remain here,” added Altmaier, whom Merkel appointed earlier this month to oversee her government’s handling of the refugee crisis.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also launched an initiative aimed at speeding up the deportation procedure for unsuccessful asylum applicants from the Balkans.
In a joint letter to the foreign ministers of six Balkan countries, seen by Reuters, de Maiziere and Steinmeier asked them to accept so-called “laissez-passer” documents. These papers are issued by the country the unsuccessful asylum seekers are deported from, in this case Germany.
Unsuccessful asylum-seekers often cannot be sent back to their home countries if they do not have passports, and getting laissez-passer paperwork recognized often takes a long time.
Support for Merkel’s conservatives is falling due to concern over the refugee crisis.
Many Germans feel the country cannot cope with the influx, and a poll for ARD showed three-quarters of Germans expected the refugees to change German society.
Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told broadcaster ZDF that Germany could probably cope with 100,000-300,000 refugees per year, adding it had also managed 400,000 per year in the past.
He said setting a limit to immigration and integrating new arrivals belonged together, and added that he and Merkel - who has adopted the mantra “we can do this” - continued to have differences on tackling the migration crisis.
He said Germany and Europe needed to fundamentally change their immigration policy or “we won’t be able to do this”.
But Seehofer, premier of the state of Bavaria which shares a frontier with Austria, said he would not consider building border fences.
Several European leaders are due to meet on Sunday to tackle the migrant crisis in the western Balkans as thousands trying to reach Germany are trapped in deteriorating conditions with the approach of winter.
Hungary has responded to the largest migration wave Europe has seen since World War Two by building a steel fence along its borders with Serbia and Croatia.
“The more fences are erected, the greater the misery,” Altmaier said. “Europe must see to it that this movement and this influx is orderly and structured.”
The head of Germany’s police trade union, Rainer Wendt, said the crisis was stretching police resources thin. “I have personally told the chancellor ‘we can’t be in two places at once’,” Wendt told newspaper Die Welt.
Additional reporting by Joern Poltz in Munich; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Trevelyan