Mixed messages on asylum laws as Germany says no change on refugees

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Germany denied on Wednesday that the government had changed its open-arms policy towards refugees with its return to the Dublin Regulation, one day after the Interior Ministry move easing migrant removal was enacted without Chancellor Angela Merkel’s knowledge.

“It has nothing to do with any kind of change in any form of our policies,” said Merkel spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz, noting that the country’s return to the Dublin rule is simply a sign that EU rules are still in force.

The Dublin Regulation require decisions about refugee status within the European Union to be made in the country where the individual first entered the bloc.

Germany relaxed its stance on the rules earlier this year as several EU members on the front lines of Europe’s migration crisis, such as Hungary and Greece, began to be overwhelmed by a tide of people trying to escape war zones like Syria and Afghanistan.

That policy turned Germany into a magnet for refugees, with predictions of at least 800,000 asylum seekers expected to arrive this year alone.

The Interior Ministry announced Tuesday that it would begin applying the Dublin standards. But Wirtz on Wednesday said that there was no actual change to German policy, just a reflection that Germany was adhering to EU guidelines.

Merkel was not warned in advance of the Interior Ministry’s decision, she said.

The decision was taken entirely by the Interior Ministry, Wirtz said. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also only found out on Tuesday, his spokesman said.

The various members of Germany’s governing coalition agreed last week to examine the weaknesses in the Dublin rules, but only said they would endeavour to uphold European laws, not overturn Merkel’s waiver.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the return to the Dublin standards should not have been a surprise.

“I can tell you that, together with the Interior Ministry, we were of the opinion early that the revocation of the legal situation at a European level had to be undone bit by bit,” he said. “As such, we were always of the same mind that the time would come when we would have to approach the situation differently.”

Along with Tuesday’s Dublin revelation came the news that the German Office for Migration and Refugees had been required since October 21 to check whether Syrian asylum seekers had made asylum applications in other countries before reaching Germany.

The influx of people has exposed shortfalls in Germany in everything from housing to civil servants’ capacity to properly register the arrivals. It has also raised fears across society that Germany cannot afford to help the refugees.

But a panel of economic experts said Wednesday that Germany could not only manage the crisis, but even benefit from it.

According to the German Council of Economic Experts, the new influx of people has the potential, if managed properly, to carry a positive effect for the German economy, which is slated for a slow decline as the population ages, with fewer qualified young workers to replace them.

“The migration of refugees brings a significant potential for education and qualification with it,” the council said in its annual autumn report. “The effects on the number of workers, and thus the country’s production potential, could be moderate in the medium term.”

But it noted that, by 2020, this could translate into 500,000 additional qualified workers in the country. The report noted that, if integration policies are not implemented properly, that workforce increase could be lower and require greater investment.

“Lengthier asylum procedures and a deterioration in labour market integration could boost the costs significantly,” said Christoph Schmidt, head of the panel.

At the same time, the report noted that the surge of people would also mean an increase in Germany’s unemployment levels.

One way to increase migrant integration into the job market would be to suspend minimum wage laws in some cases, to make the new job applicants more attractive to employers, the group said.

The report noted that Germany has spent between 5.9 billion and 8.3 billion euros (6.3 billion to 8.9 billion dollars) on migration expenses this year, with expenditures expected to rise to between 9 billion and 14.3 billion in 2016.

“In view of the good budget situation, these costs are manageable,” read the report.

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