Germany has announced a tightening of its refugee policy, saying it is “not acceptable” that many refugees coming to the country are from and not Syria.
The German interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, said on Wednesday that, of the thousands of refugees and migrants arriving every day, the second highest number came from Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan is on the second place for the number of cases being handled. That is not acceptable,” he told journalists in Berlin after a cabinet meeting.
“We agree with the Afghan government that Afghanistan’s youth and middle class should remain in their country and take part in its reconstruction,” he said, claiming that an increasing number of those coming in recent weeks were from Kabul’s middle class, and that their departure threatened Afghanistan’s stability.
The government is under increasing domestic pressure to reduce the numbers coming to , which it is estimated could reach 1.5 million by the end of the year. On Monday alone, a total of 11,154 refugees and migrants were picked up by German police, more than in the entire month of October so far.
Until recently it was widely accepted that Afghans, Iraqis and above all Syrians had a right to apply for asylum in Germany. The government, keen to show it is managing the refugee crisis, has also begun speeding up the process of deporting those back to countries considered safe, as well as halting its previous policy under which rejected asylum seekers were not deported back during the winter months.
The tougher rhetoric from Berlin also came as , until now a critic of building fences to keep out refugees and migrants, announced plans to erect barriers along parts of its border, albeit insisting the move was meant solely to bring order to the flow of people entering the country.
, the main entry point into Austria, also said it was ready to build a fence, threatening to set off a chain reaction from other countries along the land route used by those seeking a better life in the EU.
“If necessary, we are ready to put up the fence immediately,” said the Slovenian prime minister, Miro Cerar.
Austria’s interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, told parliament construction of “technical barriers” would begin after about 10 days of planning but gave no exact date for work to begin.
In separate comments to the state broadcaster ORF, she spoke of the need for a fence to maintain public order. The defence minister, Gerald Klug, said containers or railings could be set up to “control the refugees in an orderly way”.
Mikl-Leitner insisted there were no plans “to build a fence around Austria”. Still, the project is likely to run into domestic and international criticism for the signal it sends to other nations struggling to cope with the migrant influx, and because of associations with the has built to keep migrants out, a move Austria strongly criticised.
Since sealed its borders a few weeks ago, thousands of migrants using the western Balkans route into Austria and beyond have been entering Croatia and then Slovenia daily.
Austria, in opposing the fencing-off border areas, invoked the principle of free movement within the EU’s internal borders. However, its attempts to cope with the migrant influx have been complicated by recent moves by Germany, the country of choice of many migrants, to slow their entry from Austria.
Mikl-Leitner acknowledged a possible effect on migrants in Slovenia if Austria built barriers but said Austria was struggling to deal with the situation “because Germany is taking too few” migrants.
De Maizière, meanwhile, accused Austria of deliberately driving refugees over the border into Germany after dark. He said refugees had been arriving uncoordinated in large numbers without any warning from the Austrian authorities, leaving the German police struggling to cope.