REFUGEE CRISIS

Merkel to Ramp Up Repatriations

Ankunft von Flüchtlingen am Bahnhof München
For many refugees, Chancellor Angela Merkel was their escape from war and poverty. Source: DPA

More than a million refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa poured into Germany over the past two years. Now many of them will be encouraged – or ordered – to return home soon under a raft of measures proposed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government.

The chancellor will meet Thursday with the premiers of Germany’s 16 states to discuss a 16-point plan to expedite the departure of those who fail to meet asylum criteria.

Of the nearly 696,000 asylum cases decided last year, around 262,000 were rejected. These migrants will need to leave Germany, but sending them home and encouraging others to voluntarily return has proven challenging.

That’s why the government wants to increase incentives for those willing to return to their home countries and also make it easier to deport others, especially those who have committed crimes or those considered a potential danger.

Angela Merkel is under pressure to fix the migrant chaos.

The meeting with state leaders follows talks on Monday with coalition government leaders from Ms. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, her Bavarian ally the Christian Social Union and the center-left Social Democratic Party who gave the repatriation plan the green light.

Ms. Merkel is under pressure to fix the migrant chaos, which will cost taxpayers more than €43 billion ($46 billion) by the end of this year and which, perhaps even more importantly, could cost the chancellor her reelection in September.

One of her goals is to seal support from conservative voters leaning toward the right-wing Alternative for Germany party by sending more refugees home, faster.

The 16-point program calls for a joint center to coordinate the return of asylum-seekers and a federal center for holding rejected asylum applicants. Another measure, in response to the Christmas market terrorist attack, allows the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees to check refugees’ cellphones.

Anschlag mit Lastwagen auf Weihnachtsmarkt
Chancellor Merkel and members of her cabinet paid their respect to victims of the Christmas market terrorist attack in Berlin. Source: Michael Kappeler/DPA

As for incentives, the federal government would provide an additional €90 million for return and reintegration programs this year. Also new, the sooner a migrant decides to return home, the higher the support.

Thanks to these incentives, the number of migrants volunteering to return to their home countries increased from 27,000 in 2014 to 58,000 in 2015 and 80,000 last year. In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, 21,500 migrants took advantage of the voluntary offer in 2016 – an 88 percent increase over the previous year.

Lawmakers have already banned family reunions for two years, avoiding battles to bring relatives over to Germany as is the case in Britain.

The coalition partners also intend to move quickly on  10 measures they agreed last month, including tougher place-of-residence obligations and surveillance of individuals considered a potential danger. Another involves extending to 18 months the period of time a rejected asylum seeker, classified as posing a threat, can be detained before being deported. Under the current law, people can be imprisoned only if their deportation is possible within three months.

The coalition parties also agreed to expand the use of electronic ankle tags to track potential suspects. An earlier draft bill allowed electronic tagging for sentenced offenders only.

Ms. Merkel’s 16-point return plan will require approval by all states. This could be difficult, given that some of the state governments run by the Social Democrats and Greens have opposed her deportation policies.

John Blau is a senior editor with Handelsblatt Global. Daniel Delhaes with Handelblatt in Berlin contributed to this story. To contact the authors: blau@handelsblatt.com and delhaes@handelsblatt.com

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