Germany announced Thursday that it would take in 10,200 refugees as part of a European Union plan to resettle the most vulnerable refugees from crisis regions in North Africa and the Middle East. The new agreement to accept refugees was reached at a meeting in Berlin between Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.
Mr. Avramopoulos said Germany’s acceptance of refugees is of “great importance.” He added that the program of legal entry is designed to thwart smuggling gangs that bring refugees to Europe in flimsy boats that often capsize or sink.
The two men also discussed removing Germany’s new border controls on its frontier with Austria, which were put in place to halt the flow of refugees via Eastern Europe. EU countries had agreed to remove border inspections between member countries as parat of the Schengen Agreement in 1985.
France will take in 10,000 of the refugees and Britain 7,000. Eastern European countries such as Hungary and Poland have refused to participate in the resettlement program; campaigns against Muslim immigrants there portray them as a threat to Europe’s civilization.
Ironically, Mr. Seehofer is one of the most outspoken opponents of immigration in the new German coalition government, wanting to set an upper limit on the number of migrants Germany will take in and the number of family reunification cases it will permit. He is a member of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU.
“We need to talk about family reunification,” said Patrick Sensburg, a domestic policy expert in the CDU. “The people want an overall concept that is clear. We have to work on that.”
The European statistics office Eurostat on Thursday reported that Germany had taken in 325,400 refugees in 2017, accounting for almost 60 percent of the 540,000 migrants resettled last year. The statistics office said the largest segment of resettled people, about 33 percent, were from Syria, followed by Afghanistan, which accounted for 19 percent of the refugees. Refugees from Iraq accounted for 12 percent.
The resettlement program for North Africa was launched by the EU last summer in cooperation with the UN’s refugee agency to provide particularly vulnerable refugees with a direct and secure route to Europe. By the autumn of 2019, it will have resettled at least 50,000 refugees in Europe.
Almost immediately, criticism of the refugee program came from the Alternative for Germany, which entered parliament for the first time last year by campaigning against immigration. The AfD, as the party is known by its German initials, said the government should refrain from making any refugee commitments to the European Union.
The aid organization Pro Asyl also denounced cooperation between the EU and the Libyan Coast Guard, which it said brings thousands of refugees back to “torture centers” in the country.
Moritz Koch is a senior correspondent of Handelsblatt based in Berlin, and Charles Wallace in an editor for Handelsblatt Global in New York. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org and C.Wallace@extern.handelsblatt.com