February 11, 2016 / 2:26 PM / in 2 years

German government ends row over tighter asylum rules

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s coalition government said on Thursday it had reached a compromise in a row over new asylum rules that are intended to curb an influx of migrants, opening the way for them to pass to parliament for debate.

A migrant child walks at the sports hall of the Jane-Addams high school which has been transformed into a refugee shelter in Berlin's Hohenschoenhausen district, Germany, February 2, 2016 REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The proposed measures were originally agreed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and her center-left Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners two weeks ago.

But a dispute erupted last weekend after SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel said he had not been consulted on one of the new measures -- a two-year ban on family reunions for some asylum seekers -- that would also affect unaccompanied minors.

It was the latest in a series of spats between the ruling parties which have deepened public scepticism about the government’s handling of the refugee crisis after 1.1 million migrants arrived in Germany last year.

On Thursday, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and Justice Minister Heiko Maas said they had agreed on a compromise that would allow the parents of underage asylum seekers to be reunited with their children in cases of hardship.

The agreement clears the way for parliament to debate the new rules, which also include speeding up the process for applicants from so-called safe countries and reducing financial support for asylum seekers.

RISE IN RIGHT-WING CRIME

Merkel, whose popularity has slumped to a four-and-half-year low over her handling of the crisis, is under pressure to limit the number of migrants as public concern grows over whether Germany can integrate the new arrivals.

To help integrate migrants into the labor market, German Labour Minister Andrea Nahles demanded a further 450 million euros on Thursday.

Germany has said it will use a larger-than-expected budget surplus to pay for accommodating refugees. Last September, Nahles said integrating refugees would lead to extra costs in her ministry’s budget of 1.8-3.3 billion euros.

“We can’t take away money from the long-term unemployed. Otherwise there will be a competitive situation that will fuel fears rather than counter them,” Nahles told the Funke group of newspapers.

She said she expects the number of people receiving unemployment benefits to rise by 270,000 this year due to the refugee crisis.

Public resentment toward refugees has been fueled by incidents such as mass attacks on women at New Year in Cologne which has been blamed on migrants. There are also fears that there is rising support for right-wing groups.

Preliminary statistics from the Interior Ministry on Thursday showed that crime by right-wing extremists in Germany rose by more than 30 percent in 2015 to 13,846.

Violent, xenophobic and hate crime all nearly doubled, compared with the same preliminary data set from 2014.

Reporting by Thorsten Severin and Tina Bellon; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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