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Germany frees up refugee funds, eases asylum rules

Frank Rumpenhorst, AFP | Migrants receive a warm welcome at Frankfurt station on Sunday.

Germany’s coalition government on Monday agreed to release billions of euros to help regions and municipalities cope with the record influx of migrants, after 18,000 crossed the border from Austria at the weekend.


At a high-level meeting that lasted more than five hours, leaders from Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition pledged three billion euros for states and municipalities, and agreed to free up an additional three billion euros to fund the government’s own expenses, such as paying benefits for asylum seekers.

Merkel's cabinet also agreed on a series of other measures, such as speeding up asylum procedures and facilitating the construction of asylum shelters.

The agreement included widening the list of countries deemed "safe", meaning their citizens generally have no claim to asylum, to include Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro. Among those already in that category are Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia.

The aim is to speed up asylum and extradition procedures for migrants from southeastern Europe, in order to focus on refugees from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The coalition meeting came at the end of a weekend that saw thousands of refugees entering the country after Germany and Austria had agreed with Hungary to waive rules requiring refugees to register an asylum claim in the first EU country they reach.

Germany has said it will take as many as 800,000 refugees this year, by far the most in the European Union. In August alone, more than 100,000 asylum seekers were registered in Europe's largest economy.

Pressure on Munich

Merkel's decision to allow thousands of refugees stranded in Hungary to find a new home in Germany has caused a rift within her conservative bloc with her Bavarian allies accusing her of sending a "totally wrong signal".

At the station in Munich, Bavaria’s state capital, a few dozen well-wishers turned up to cheer the new arrivals. Those who stopped to speak told of weeks of arduous travel by land and sea. Some seemed intimidated by the welcoming applause.

The president of the Upper Bavarian government, Christoph Hillenbrand, said he expected an extra 11,000 migrants to reach the station on Monday, adding that the city was running out of capacity.

Authorities there were using a disused car showroom and a railway logistics centre as makeshift camps, and were adding a further 1,000 beds to 2,300 already set up at the city’s international trade fair ground. About 4,000 people were sent to other German states.

“It’s getting tight,” Hillenbrand told reporters at the train station.

Hungary ‘won’t shoot at migrants’

The inflow of migrants was expected to slow down this week after Austria said it would end the emergency measures that allowed thousands to cross the border into Germany over the weekend.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said the decision had been reached following "intensive talks" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a telephone call with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is bitterly opposed to the waiver.

In an interview aired on Monday by Austrian broadcaster ORF, Orban reiterated his view that many migrants surging through his country from crisis zones in the Middle East, Africa and Asia were fleeing poverty, not real refugees in need of asylum.

Orban defended his government’s decision to build a 3.5-metre-high fence along the length of Hungary's boundary with Serbia to keep further migrants out.

"We are protecting Europe according to European rules that say borders can be crossed only in certain areas in a controlled way and after registration," he said in the ORF interview.

Asked if soldiers along the frontier would get orders to shoot, he said: "It is not necessary because there will be a fence that cannot be crossed. Whoever wants nevertheless to cross the fence must be arrested and prosecuted. No use of arms will be necessary."


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