Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has taken the lead in European Union efforts to master the migration crisis, began talks Thursday on her next step to whittle down the vast northward flow of hundreds of thousands of people via the Balkans.
She was aiming to convince all parties in her often fractious coalition to place a subset of the arriving migrants in holding camps, preparatory to swift deportation.
She says ejecting people who have no claim to German asylum will make space for those who are genuinely fleeing war and persecution.
Her series of meetings at her Berlin office began with the two other party leaders in her coalition and was to continue with 16 premiers of the German states and possibly segue back to more three-party talks lasting into the night.
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.
Her tri-lateral talks with Social Democratic (SPD) leader Sigmar Gabriel and Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer centre on her conservative bloc’s proposal for so-called “transit zones.”
Gabriel’s SPD has bridled at the plan, saying the sites, modelled on transit zone lock-ups at German airports where people who arrive with invalid papers are held, would be tantamount to prison camps.
As the leader of Merkel’s CSU sister party, Seehofer has won plaudits among Germany’s right for spearheading the transit-zone idea.
Merkel’s later meeting with the premiers was to center on more federal refugee funding for the states from Berlin.
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.
Officials say the true number may exceed 1 million as thousands arrive daily. 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.
Germany has taken the lead in the crisis since Merkel opened the German border on September 5 and urged Eastern European states to let the refugee treks pass without hindrance to prevent a humanitarian crisis where crowds of people end up in limbo with nowhere to go.
Relying on micro-management to alter the course of the crisis, she aims to send home most of the Albanians and Kosovars more swiftly, while building bigger holding camps, dubbed hot spots, in Greece and Italy and persuading Ankara to stop refugees crossing from Turkey to Greece by rubber boat.
“We need cooperation with the country from which the refugees are embarking so we can organize border protection jointly,” she told an audience of industrialists in Dusseldorf Wednesday night. “That is why cooperation with Turkey is of the essence.”
She called for a revision of EU refugee law, saying the so-called Dublin Rules, which provide for migrants to be sent back to their place of first EU landfall “has such weaknesses that we must revise it in any case.” Germany has effectively stopped applying it.
Aides said Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), might grapple with the issues late into the night with the other two party leaders. Their last round of talks Sunday ended in disagreement.
Merkel has been riding out misgivings in her centre-right party about the welcome policy.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, her most important CDU lieutenant, brushed aside doubts that Germany cannot afford to shelter so many new arrivals, more than 1 per cent of its population.
It is collecting enough taxes and has public debt under control, he said.
“You can see, it’s not a bad idea to have financed safely in times when it was not so challenging,” he told reporters in Berlin.