london – As political rhetoric over immigration heats up ahead of next year’s European elections, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz outlined plans Tuesday to toughen migration laws and deport more failed asylum-seekers in a sharp reversal of policies under his predecessor Angela Merkel.
In the first nine months of this year, 230,000 people claimed asylum in Germany, more than the total for 2022. With migrant shelters filling up, regional authorities have complained that the costs are unsustainable.
Scholz said recently that too many migrants were coming to Germany. After hosting the country’s 16 state governors in Berlin on Monday evening for a meeting lasting several hours, he emerged just before 3 a.m. Tuesday with a deal he claimed would cut migration.
‘I believe this is a historic moment as we sit here,’ Scholz told reporters. ‘In light of an unquestionably huge challenge, with very large numbers of migrants and irregular migration, all the levels of the state have managed to cooperate closely, which is necessary. People expect this of us.’
The agreement will see the federal government pay states and municipalities $8,000 per refugee from next year, instead of the current annual fixed lump sum payment of just under $4 billion. Scholz said this would allow federal payments to rise and fall according to demand.
Benefits for asylum-seekers will be cut, including the doubling of the time migrants must wait to receive financial support. The chancellor also promised to speed up asylum decisions and make it easier to deport those who are refused refugee status.
Temporary checks on the Polish, Czech and Swiss borders will remain, while the government has pledged tougher sentences for human smuggling.
It’s a turnaround from the policies of Scholz’s predecessor. Under Merkel’s chancellorship in 2015, Germany opened its borders to more than 1 million refugees.
The country also has taken in more than 1 million Ukrainian refugees who have been given temporary protection following Russia’s February 2022 invasion.
Chancellor Scholz has an eye on upcoming European elections, scheduled for June next year, says analyst Camino Mortera-Martinez of the Centre for European Reform in Brussels.
‘I think the timing of all this makes a lot of sense from a political point of view, because we’ve seen that there has been a string of regional elections in Germany and in other parts of Europe, and the mainstream or center-right parties are getting the message that they need to be – or look – tougher on migration, in order to get the votes that are now going to more radical alternatives, like Alternative for Germany.’
The Alternative for Germany party is currently polling second, ahead of Scholz’s Social Democrats.
Judith Wiebke of the Berlin-based migrant support group Pro Asyl said Scholz’s policies are driven by false political rhetoric.
‘There are asylum-seekers in Germany who are obliged to be deported, but there are significantly fewer of them than is often portrayed in the public discussion. And they often have very good reasons why they can ultimately stay in Germany – for example family, humanitarian or medical reasons. You also have to ask, does it really make sense for us to deport people who are in training or work, for example?’
Far-right parties are stoking fears of an influx of refugees from the Middle East following the Israel-Hamas conflict, Mortera-Matinez added.
‘I think it is very dangerous to get into this idea that there is going to be a massive wave of refugees,’ she said. ‘This is the kind of discourse that benefits populists and the far-right.’
Meanwhile, Italy, which receives hundreds of thousands of migrants every year, signed a deal Tuesday to build asylum processing centers in Albania.
Italy’s prime minister says it could be a blueprint for deals between the European Union and nonmember countries, although critics say such plans could breach international law.