Germany: Angela Merkel’s coalition split over border ‘concentration camps’ as pressures of refugee crisis take toll

Praised for its dealing with the crisis, Germany is nonetheless struggling

Adam Withnall
Thursday 15 October 2015 08:27
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Supporters of the AfD political party protest against German Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal policy towards taking in migrants and refugees on October 14, 2015 in Magdeburg, Germany
Supporters of the AfD political party protest against German Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal policy towards taking in migrants and refugees on October 14, 2015 in Magdeburg, Germany

Angela Merkel is facing a major coalition split over plans to build border “transit zones”, which critics have said would amount to “concentration camps” for refugees.

Germany, widely praised for the compassionate way its government has dealt with the refugee crisis, is struggling to cope with the number of arrivals and the need to house them safely as the weather worsens.

Ms Merkel tasked her interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, and the head of her new migrant crisis unit, Peter Altmaier, to come up with workable solutions to slow down the influx as it heads towards a predicted one million people by the end of the year.

But their proposal for “transit zones” to speedily process and repatriate economic migrants before they can get too far into the country have drawn unfavourable comparisons to Nazi Germany.

It would entail extending to Germany's land borders a system in place at airports, where migrants arriving from countries considered safe or people without papers can be held for two days without formally entering the country while their asylum applications are considered.

Measures to reduce refugee numbers have been called for by the right wing, which has seen a resurgence since the start of the crisis in the form of Dresden’s Pegida.

Merkel's conservative bloc is pushing the idea and its branch in Bavaria, which has taken the brunt of the arrivals, is particularly keen.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who has said the proposal appears aimed mainly at smoothing over recent differences among the conservatives, said Wednesday his Social Democrats wouldn't back a system that entails people being interned at the border.

Putting all newcomers into camps at a time when 6,000 to 10,000 people a day are arriving would lead to "enormous facilities with large numbers of people formally taken into custody," he said. "I don't think that is legally possible, and I think it would lead to conditions we don't want to have in Germany."

Germany has seen large numbers of people from Albania, Kosovo and other Balkan countries who have virtually no chance of gaining asylum arrive this year. It already is moving to declare those countries "safe."

Gabriel said arrivals from there already are falling sharply and it's important to ensure that those who have arrived leave faster.

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