Merkel: European solution needed

Asylum and refugee policy Merkel: European solution needed

A joint European asylum policy will be, after the Greek bailout, "the next major European project, in which we show whether we are really able to take joint action", said Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In her "summer interview" with the German public broadcaster ZDF, Merkel called for common European action regarding aid to refugees as well as in assessing what countries of origin which can be classified as safe. "We cannot grant asylum to everyone who believes they would have a better chance at finding a job here", Merkel said.

Economic hardship is not a reason for granting asylum, she explained. The Balkan countries want to become members of the EU; there is no political persecution there. We do not want to give people false hopes", or else we will not be able to give sufficient help to those who need it", the Chancellor said.

Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in an interview that the idea of extending the list of safe countries of origin must not be a taboo. Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo are voluntarily seeking a rapprochement with the EU and can therefore not at the same time be treated like persecutor states, Steinmeier said in an interview with Bild-Zeitung. 

Benefits in kind or cash for asylum seekers?

The Federal Government is meanwhile considering going back to providing more social benefits in kind – rather than benefits in monetary form - to asylum seekers. Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière initiated the debate, arguing in interviews that asylum seekers should receive more social benefits in kind, rather than cash.

The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is currently examining the extent to which this could be implemented. A spokesperson for the ministry declared on Friday that this was being discussed in light of current reflections by the Federation and the Länder on refugee policy.

This year the Federal Government has implemented the primacy of giving benefits in cash. This principle continues to apply, the spokesperson explained; however it would also be possible to provide primarily benefits in kind.

The new Asylum Seekers Benefits Act came into force in March of this year, implementing Federal Constitutional Court guidelines. However, the Federal Constitutional Court did not specify whether social benefits should be provided primarily in kind or in monetary form. The discussions on the legislation are still ongoing, the spokesperson declared.

Speeding up asylum procedures

The Head of the Federal Chancellery Peter Altmaier pressed for a speedup of asylum procedures. "We must improve, we must become faster," he declared in an interview with the German broadcaster ZDF (3 August). He also said he was optimistic about clearing the backlog of some 240,000 open asylum applications. The aim is to shorten the procedures so that asylum laws can be applied and abuses prevented.

The measures taken by the Federal Government to accelerate procedures are proving effective. Already, applications for asylum are being dealt with faster. New figures published by the Federal Ministry of the Interior indicate that on average 5.3 months is required to process a request for asylum. This marks a significant reduction when compared to the 7.1 months required only last year. "We are not resting on our laurels though. We intend to speed things up further," declared a spokesperson of the Federal Interior Ministry on 27 July.

Processing times are already much shorter for applicants from some high-priority countries of origin. Applications from citizens of Kosovo, for instance, are already processed within two months.

Joint action plan of federal and state governments takes effect

One reason for this trend is the improved human resources now available to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). These past months, 650 positions were filled. Another 1,000 jobs are planned for 2016, said a spokesperson of the Federal Interior Ministry.

The increase in staff is part of an action plan agreed on by the federal and state governments at a meeting on 18 June. Asylum proceedings are to be accelerated and the existing backlog of applications cleared.

New talks between the Federation and the Länder on refugee and asylum policy are being planned for September. 

European Commission funds

The European Commission is also providing a financial contribution to the costs associated with the reception and integration of refugees and the implementation of asylum procedures in the 28 member states. Germany could receive around 350 million euros until 2020.