No breakthrough at German ‘refugee crisis meeting’ as opposition grows

Migrants are escorted by German police to a registration centre, after crossing the Austrian-German border in Wegscheid near Passau, Germany, November 1, 2015 © Michael Dalder
A key meeting of German ruling coalition leaders failed to produce a breakthrough as pressure is mounting on Chancellor Angela Merkel to stem the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees to the welcoming country.

The meeting between Merkel and her partners in the ruling grand coalition, Horst Seehofer of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and Social Democrat (SPD) Sigmar Gabriel, had been touted in the German media as a crisis summit, in which Merkel expected to present a comprehensive action plan for the refugee crisis.

Germany is the prime destination for asylum seekers from the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Asia, who are coming in unprecedented numbers to Europe this year. The country is expected to accept over a million refugees in 2015.

Seehofer, who leads the sister-party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has turned into a fierce critic of her policies in the past weeks. He issued a series of ultimatums demanding a tougher approach to refugees and even threatened to take the government to court only to back down at the last moment.

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His concern partially stems from the fact that the southern state of Bavaria hosts the bulk of the asylum seekers arriving in Germany. As Seehofer demanded action, some media speculated that he might start sending new arrivals on to other states to defuse the pressure on his region.

CSU is pushing for so-called transit zones to be opened along the border to process the refugees before allowing them in, an issue that was discussed at Sunday’s meeting, according to government spokesman Steffen Seibert. He said it was one of the “points that remain open and still to be settled” as he announced that a new meeting of the three leaders is scheduled for Thursday.

Another concern for Seehofer is that because of the refugee situation his party is losing ground to right-wing groups, such as the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) [Alternative for Germany]. CDU’s approval rating has dropped to 36 percent in recent weeks, the lowest level in three years.

On Saturday, the AfD staged a mass rally in Berlin with activists holding anti-government banners calling to “stop Merkel, save Germany”. The event was marred by minor clashes with the police.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is growing in Germany as the initial euphoria over Merkel’s call to help the refugees for humanitarian reasons is ebbing in the face of the problems associated with practicing what is being preached.

For the village of Sumte it would mean that they would soon be by far outnumbered by asylum seekers. The tiny eastern settlement of 102 residents was ordered a month ago to prepare for the arrival of 1,000 refugees. The villagers protested and the number was dropped to 500 initially and no more than 750 in the long run.

Defiance towards the government stance on the issue is growing among Merkel’s own party as well. MP Christian Stetten told the financial newspaper Handelsblatt that there is a petition calling on the chancellor to limit the number of refugees that would be allowed into Germany.

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