Bavarian asylum camps open their doors

Agencies based in ‘anchor centres’ to take hardline approach, state premier says

Asylum seekers at the reception and deportation centre for refugees in Regensburg in Bavaria. Photograph: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/EPA

Asylum seekers at the reception and deportation centre for refugees in Regensburg in Bavaria. Photograph: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/EPA

 

Germany’s southern state of Bavaria is the country’s most popular destination, but the camps that opened their doors there on Wednesday are nothing for holidaymakers.

“Anchor centre” is the euphemistic term for processing and holding facilities for migrants that the Bavarian state government hopes will expedite the asylum process there and prove a model for elsewhere in Germany.

But a month after a refugee row between Bavaria and Berlin brought the ruling coalition to the brink, other federal states are sceptical of the “anchor” concept and have yet to sign up.

The German term for the facilities – “Anker” – is an acronym of three words that leaves little doubt as to why Bavaria has set them up: “arrival”, “decision” and “return”.

With a key state election there in October, and the ruling Christian Social Union (CSU) well short of regaining its absolute majority, the new facilities are part of efforts to show CSU voters the party has migration under control, three years after more than a million people arrived in the country, largely through Bavaria.

‘Humane and orderly’

State premier Markus Söder has promised to strike a better balance in migration with a “humane and orderly” approach, providing decisions with 18 months.

Agencies based in the anchor centres will take a hardline approach to end the residency of people it feels are a threat or have little chance of remaining, he said. Others with a good chance of being offered residency will be offered a chance to find work or enrol in training schemes or integration programmes.

Critics accuse the CSU of being disingenuous, with the migration NGO Pro Asyl calling closed facilities an “obstacle to integration by government degree”.

“Being permanently confined to mass housing facilities is catastrophic for those affected,” it said in a statement.

The charity Save the Children attacked the fenced-in centres as a risk to asylum procedures and fundamental rights, particularly for child development. “The same rights apply to a refugee child as any other children such as access to education, healthcare and . . . protection,” said Susanne Krüger, head of Save the Children in Germany.

The centres are controversial, too, in Germany’s ruling coalition in Berlin. Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, a government commissioner responsible for children’s rights, said he was concerned these were not guaranteed in the anchor centres.

In a statement he questioned whether the Bavarian anchor centres in their current form conformed with Germany’s commitments to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Bavaria’s interior minister Joachim Hermann has dismissed the critics, saying the camps merely bundle into one location previously decentralised agencies with differing competences.

Instead of distributing asylum seekers into municipalities, up to 1,500 people will be held in each of the centres, providing a one-stop shop for new arrivals.

The camps are not housed in new facilities but pre-existing asylum centres. They will not be closed and residents will be allowed come and go, he said. Children will receive education inside the camps rather than at local schools, he said.

He said Bavarian authorities had been instructed to take “visibly swift action” against migrants who break the law. Later this week, Bavaria will increase financial incentives for voluntary repatriation of migrants.

‘Migrant masterplan’

The new measures are part of federal interior minister Horst Seehofer’s “migrant masterplan”, a 63-point paper presented last month to optimise and standardise asylum procedures.

His immigration blueprint, dubbed an asylum crackdown by critics, saw him threaten to resign unless it was adopted by the government.

While other states have declined to follow Bavaria’s anchor centre lead, Mr Seehofer is engaged in talks with neighbouring Austria and Italy to take back migrants already registered for asylum there.

“I am confident that the anchor facilities will be a success,” said Mr Seehofer. Wednesday’s centre launch coincides with the start of new family reunification quotas, allowing up to 1,000 relatives of refugees with limited protection to come to Germany each month.

Opposition parties have criticised the law for making international refugee law subject to arbitrary upper limits. The Green Party has suggested it contravenes Germany’s postwar constitution, which guarantees a right to family life.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has criticised the new procedure as unnecessarily bureaucratic.