Merkel suffers refugee crisis setback as Berlin drops transit zones plan

Five reception centres to be established inside Germany instead after coalition partner denounces proposed zones on Austrian border as detention camps

Angela Merkel has suffered a setback in her attempt to stabilise the influx of refugees into Germany by setting up “transit zones” on the border with Austria.

The zones, denounced as detention camps by the Social Democrats (SPD), the German chancellor’s junior coalition partner, were rejected at crisis talks in Berlin on Thursday. Instead, her government announced that it would establish up to five “reception centres” inside Germany for the swifter processing of asylum claims and the prompt deportation of those with little chance of obtaining refugee status, mainly people from the Balkans.

The European commission yesterday predicted the arrival of up to 3 million people in the EU by 2017.

The Berlin agreement, reached during crisis talks between Merkel’s Christian Democrats, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, and the SPD, represented an unusual defeat for the centre-right and a victory for Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD leader and vice-chancellor.

The German interior ministry signalled the massive scale of the movement of people towards Germany this year when it supplied the latest figures on Thursday for registered refugees – 758,000, a record-breaking figure that suggests the number will exceed 1 million this year. They came mainly from Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan, Albania and Kosovo. The migrants from the latter two places are likely to be deported promptly under the tighter regime Merkel is trying to create, while remaining open to those viewed as bona fide refugees.

The EU is preparing for a crucial week of summitry devoted for the fifth time in a matter of months to the migration emergency. EU interior and justice ministers are to meet on Monday to ponder their options amid growing evidence that their governments are failing to come up with coherent policies, or to come good on repeated pledges of money, resources and refugee-sharing by quotas.

That meeting is followed by a summit in Malta of EU leaders and 35 African leaders aimed at stemming the flow of migrants. It precedes yet another emergency EU summit, also in Malta, which is a fresh attempt to seize the initiative. But all the signs, as top officials in Brussels admit, are that national EU leaders are woefully behind the curve in tackling the crisis.

In Berlin, the SPD won concessions from Merkel in insisting that the new reception centres would not include any element of detention. If registered asylum seekers absconded from the administrative region where the centres are based, they would forfeit any entitlement to benefits.

The government meeting in Berlin also decided to tighten family reunification rules for refugees, though not for those granted asylum under the Geneva conventions. Family members will have to wait two years to join refugees in Germany who have been granted the right to remain while not qualifying for asylum.


Ian Traynor in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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