World Bulletin / News Desk
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with the heads of all the ruling coalition parties, has announced a new policy to speed up processing of refugees.
A meeting late on Thursday brought together Merkel, leader of the centrist Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the leftist Social Democrats (SPD), and Horst Seehofer, prime minister of Bavaria and leader of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU).
At the meeting, Merkel rejected the construction of special transit zones for refugees on the country’s borders, as the CDU and CSU party had proposed. The SPD denounced the proposal, saying that the camps would be viewed as “detention camps,” Gabriel told the press on Tuesday.
But the rift in the coalition was pulled together at the Thursday night meeting, with a compromise policy reached.
The new policy, according to the joint statement, calls for the creation of five special centers for refugees. Those who seem likely to receive asylum would be placed in separate centers from those who would be deemed a security risk.
The procedure for hearing asylum requests would be accelerated, with cases being heard within one week. In an accelerated asylum process, cases could be heard in a week, down from several months, and appeals would take only a further two weeks.
The new procedure will focus on reasons why refugees are leaving their homes, considering whether they are fleeing danger, or simply seeking better living conditions.
The plan also calls for the creation of a special ID card for refugees, which would be required for all procedures. Some refugees are also to be asked to pay for part of their expenses while being processed.
At a press conference after the meeting, Merkel hailed the progress on the refugee issue, which has become a major controversy in Germany.
“We took a real step forward, one with positive consequences,” Merkel said. “"We need to show that we are an open and a tolerant country, but also a country which respects its constitution," she told reporters.
Separately, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble told the German parliament on Thursday that the cost of receiving the refugees would reach $20 billion.
But he told parliament that the country had the funds necessary to meet the challenge.
The German government has said that it expects to receive at least 800,000 asylum seekers this year. But about 700,000 have already arrived, so many observers think that the number must become much larger.
Up to three million migrants were likely to arrive in Europe by the end of 2017, according to forecasts by the European Commission released on Thursday.