Merkel steps up plans to create transit zones for ayslum seekers

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Berlin (dpa) – Border transit zones have emerged as the latest issue splitting Germany’s ruling coalition, as the country seeks to find a way to grapple with the press of people seeking entry amid Europe’s refugee crisis.

Social Democrats (SPD) expressed misgivings Monday after a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted the zones might be necessary to streamline the processing of people into groups of potential asylum seekers and those whose claims to enter Germany required additional review or merit rejection.

Talks within the coalition – where the SPD is a junior member to Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) – on creating such zones should start “as soon as possible”, the chancellor’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said on Monday.

Under the transit zone plan, asylum seekers travelling from a country deemed safe or who are not carrying identity papers or who are considered to have false identity papers would be detained at centres set up along the border.

“We urgently need more order concerning the entry of refugees, but I reject the establishment of detention centres for thousands of asylum seekers on the border,” said SPD parliamentary faction leader Thomas Oppermann in Berlin.

Officially, Berlin expects the numbers of refugees arriving in Germany this year to be about 800,000, with a large proportion of the asylum seekers coming from war-ravaged nations such Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea.

However, some German state governments believe that the number could be 1 million or more.

Oppermann described the transition zone proposal as “impracticable and wrong from a human point of view.”

He said it was certainly true there needed to be a more rapid registration of refugees as part of accelerated asylum processes. But he added: “Prisons do not help.”

Seibert acknowledged that transit zones were “not the means to solve all problems”, but said they could help “to bring order to the current refugee situation.”

The CDU’s Bavarian-based associate party, the Christian Social Union, has been spearheading efforts to set up transit zones. The proposal has also been backed by Merkel’s interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere.

The government has so far not laid out a concrete timetable for the transit zones.

But Germany’s new refugee coordinator, Peter Altmaier, said on Monday that a decision on transit zones is likely to be made by next week.

The transit zones would help the government “to better distinguish between the people who we want to protect and will protect … and the people who come for economic reasons,” Altmaier told the German public broadcaster ZDF.

Last week Merkel appointed Altmaier, who heads up her office, as coordinator for refugee policy in the wake of the surge in the number of asylum seekers attempting to reach Germany.

The daily stream of refugees crossing into Germany has sparked political tensions in the nation about whether the country can handle the wave of migrants, leading to a slump in opinion poll ratings for Merkel.

Underlining the scale of the refugee crisis, CDU party general secretary Peter Tauber said the asylum issue could have a decisive influence on the outcome of the next elections set down for 2017.

“If we succeed in mastering this challenge, then the CDU will succeed at the next elections,” Tauber said.

Meanwhile, the chancellor has launched an offensive to sell her liberal refugee policy to sceptical members of her conservative political bloc as well as the wider German public.

This includes a string of media interviews as well as addressing the European parliament and speaking at CDU party events.

The chancellor also plans to address the German parliament on Thursday ahead of an European Union leaders summit in Brussels on migration later in the week.

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