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3 Feb, 2024 11:02

Germany to introduce ‘payment cards’ for asylum seekers

Methods that will limit cash withdrawals are being rolled out as Berlin attempts to rein in the migrant influx with tougher laws
Germany to introduce ‘payment cards’ for asylum seekers

Asylum seekers in Germany will cease receiving cash payments during the course of this year, and will be issued special debit cards instead, the governor of Hesse, Boris Rhein, has announced. The cards will reportedly have limited functionality, with features like free cash withdrawal and transfers to recipients inside and outside of Germany disabled.

A number of municipalities across the country have introduced the new payment method ahead of nation-wide implementation. These include several communities in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Thuringia. Bild reported last month that at least 15 asylum seekers left their localities after Thuringian authorities imposed the new protocols.

Speaking on Wednesday, Rhein revealed that 14 out of 16 German states had agreed on uniform standards for such cards, with Bavaria and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern seeking other schemes. They will, however, introduce the new payment method as well, which is expected to be finalized by this summer.

According to Rhein, “with the introduction of the payment card we reduce the administrative burden on local municipalities [and] prevent the possibility of transferring money from state subsidies to countries of origin, and thus combat the inhuman human-trafficking crime.”

The pre-paid card will not be linked to an account, and will not feature card-to-card transfers within Germany or to recipients abroad. It will also not function in any country other than Germany, should an asylum seeker travel elsewhere. Local governments will also have the option of limiting the card’s functionality solely to a single region.

Asylum seekers will apparently be able to withdraw small amounts of cash using the cards, with the monthly ceiling to be determined by local authorities.

While German Finance Minister Christian Lindner hailed the scheme as a “milestone,” critics from the left have denounced the measure as “cheap populism” and “discrimination.”

More than 350,000 people applied for asylum in Germany in 2023, the highest number since 2016 and a 51% rise compared with the previous year, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) reported in early January.

Last month, Germany’s parliament passed legislation that facilitates the deportation of failed asylum seekers. Among other things, the new rules considerably extend the custody period pending deportation in a bid to prevent situations where failed applicants simply abscond around the time they are supposed to be sent home.

Moreover, police were granted additional power to search migrant accommodations and access their cell phones to facilitate identification of asylum seekers.