As invasion goes on, Merkel tries to back off from her embrace of migrants

From the Financial Times

By Stefan Wagstyl

Refugees securing asylum in Germany should expect long delays before they can bring over their families, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Monday in a departure from the “welcome” policy critics have blamed for triggering a huge influx of migrants.

The announcement came amid signs of demands in the ruling CDU/CSU bloc for a tougher response to the crisis, with Wolfgang Schäuble, finance minister, adding his voice to those advocating immigration restrictions.

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Steffen Seibert, Ms. Merkel’s spokesman, said on Monday there had been no legal change in the government’s policy. Still, in a clarification that may be welcomed by some hardliners, he explained that even refugees entitled to bring in their families could not now expect to do so because immigration officials were busy dealing with the wave of arrivals. 

“When you see this reality from one end of the country to the other, then it is clear to everyone: family reunion as it has been understood until now cannot currently take place,” he said.

His words appeared to be aimed at countering the positive image of Germany among refugees that was created in the summer by Ms. Merkel’s open doors policy for Syrians. The chancellor’s conservative critics have repeatedly urged her to start talking tough to put off would-be migrants.

Ms. Merkel has been working behind the scenes to come to terms with hardline critics who are seizing on public apprehension over the 1m asylum seekers expected to have arrived this year.

On Thursday, she announced a coalition deal to tighten refugee controls that had been agreed after weeks of argument with Horst Seehofer, head of the Bavaria-based CSU, who takes a hard line, and Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the social democrats, who have a more liberal refugee policy, largely in tune with the chancellor’s.

In a wide-ranging pact, the three leaders agreed that “a small number” of those migrants eligible to stay in Germany would not be given full asylum or refugee rights but would instead be granted “subsidiary protection”, a more limited status that does not include permission for family reunion.

However, on Friday Thomas de Maizière, interior minister, announced that this “subsidiary protection” would be applied to Syrians, by far the largest migrant group.

Within hours, he was forced to backtrack and say there had been no policy change. Yet Mr. de Maizière continued to argue that a new policy was needed, and appeared to win backing from Mr Schäuble. 

“Family reunions can and must be restricted for people who are granted subsidiary protection, and that’s the large majority,” said the finance minister in a television interview on Sunday. “This is a necessary decision and I very much favour finding agreement on this in the coalition rapidly.”

Ms. Merkel’s signal, sent through her spokesman, that family reunions would de facto be limited by the capacity of the Germany bureaucracy is unlikely to stop the arguments. 

There was support for Mr. de Maizière and Mr. Schäuble among CDU MPs on Monday and concern in the SPD’s ranks that the conservatives might be succeeding in forcing the chancellor to take a tougher line. Mr de Maizière said later on Monday that the matter was still under discussion.

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