Munich – Germany’s southern state of Bavaria launched the country’s first controversial processing centres for migrants on Wednesday, following a feud over asylum policy that nearly brought down the government.
The facilities are part of Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s plan to reduce the number of asylum seekers in Germany by speeding up the asylum process and fast-tracking the deportations of unsuccessful applicants.
Other states in Germany have delayed the establishment of the so-called “anchor centres” or refused to take part in the policy. But Bavaria, the home state of Seehofer’s right-wing conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), went ahead with the plan despite criticism.
Existing migrant arrival centres in Bavaria have been adapted to serve as anchor centres, housing representatives from a variety of government agencies involved in asylum application decisions.
Germany’s first controversial processing centres
Each of the seven centres is designed to accommodate around 1,000 to 1,500 people.
Critics have hit out at the centres, calling them deportation camps and warning of the ghettoization of migrant communities.
“Anchor centres hinder a child from growing up in an appropriate way. They cause tensions and aggressions,” Susanna Krueger from Save the Children said.
Various NGOs have voiced concern about holding hundreds of refugees in such highly-strung environments, citing past incidents where fights broke out over small issues such as cleaning out fridges or distributing pocket money, requiring major responses from police.
Migration into Europe
But Bavaria’s State Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann praised the centres, saying they would allow asylum decisions to be made more quickly.
The plans for the anchor centres were set out in March when Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) agreed to the terms of its coalition with the CSU and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).
But disagreement over asylum policy caused a major political crisis in June that pitted Seehofer against Merkel and threatened to topple both the government and the decades-old alliance between their two parties.
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Seehofer wanted to begin turning asylum seekers away at the German border, a move Merkel found unacceptable.
The conflict ended with Merkel making an 11th-hour deal with Seehofer to hold asylum seekers arriving at the country’s southern border with Austria in transit centres while their status is checked, pulling the coalition government back from the brink of collapse.
Also on Wednesday, the German government ended a pause on family reunions for asylum seekers that had been put in place in 2016.
The changes allow asylum seekers with subsidiary protection status – which stops short of full refugee status – to apply to have their families join them in Germany.
However, the number of family members allowed to come to the country is to be capped at 1,000 per month.