German coalition agrees on accelerated asylum procedure


German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has taken the lead in EU efforts to address the bloc’s refugee crisis, announced plans Thursday to speed up the country’s asylum procedure after crunch talks with coalition partners aimed at stemming the massive influx of migrants.

Under the measures, unsuccessful asylum applicants should be sent back within three weeks, in what Merkel described as “a good and important step forward” following days of tense cross-party negotiations.

People who have slim chances of being granted the right to stay in Germany will hear back on their application within a week, Merkel said. A second assessment should be made within two weeks of this decision, if the migrant chooses to appeal.

Merkel, who heads Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said the new fast-track system would mainly apply to those from the so-called safe Balkan countries, who are not entitled to refugee status, as well as individuals flouting a ban on returning to Germany.

She added that the measures will also affect migrants who have already applied for asylum in the past and those who do not have valid identification papers.

The announced package also includes the introduction of standardized ID cards for migrants and refugees, without which they will not have access to social security benefits.

The cards aim to lighten the load at registration centres across Germany as bureaucrats struggle to cope with migration levels unprecedented in Europe since World War II.

Merkel’s toughened migration policy draws on support of Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of her centre-left Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partner, and Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CDU’s more conservative sister party in Bavaria.

The announcement marks some consensus in her often fractious coalition, which has clashed in recent weeks on issues such as proposed border transit zones and the chancellor’s open-door migration policy.

Merkel has argued for the past two months that the EU can cope with migrant flows without blocking borders or constructing fences, vowing that Germany will provide a new home to all proven refugees.

Official forecasts say Germany will take in 800,000 asylum-seekers this year, but the Interior Ministry said Germany this year has already booked 758,000 arrivals to the end of October, so the forecast seems certain to be exceeded.

The true number may exceed 1 million as thousands arrive daily, officials say. Germany registered 181,000 arrivals in October alone. Most were from Syria – with 88,640 Syrian refugees on the ministry’s records – followed by Albania, Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo.

The European Commission issued an economic forecast saying an overall 3 million migrants and asylum seekers would reach the European Union by 2017, but said later this was simply a technical assumption, not a forecast.