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Merkel’s warm welcome for migrants cools off

Chancellor says there are limits to Germany’s generosity after criticism from her party

Young refugee girls are given gifts as they arrive at the central railway station in Munich, Germany, on Monday. Photograph: Andreas Gebert/EPA

Germany’s governing coalition moved on Monday to tighten benefits for migrants as chancellor Angela Merkel displayed a sharper tone towards those drawn to the country for economic reasons.

Dr Merkel has been lauded around the world for Germans’ welcome to migrants. More than 22,000 people entered Germany by train at the weekend after Vienna and Berlin announced an agreement to allow refugees to continue their journey from Hungary.

However, Dr Merkel suggested there were limits to such generosity after facing criticism from her conservative Bavarian allies in the Christian Social Union over the decision to admit the refugees. “We will protect those who should be protected but those with no prospect of staying must leave our country,” she warned on Monday.

About a fifth of asylum seekers to Germany in the first half of the year were from war-torn Syria, giving them a strong claim to refugee status. But about 39 per cent are from the western Balkans and primarily seeking economic opportunities, giving them little chance of qualifying for asylum.

Reception centres

Berlin is seeking to reduce “pull factors”, particularly for economic migrants, with a series of measures. These include replacing cash benefits for asylum seekers in initial reception centres with benefits in kind. Dr Merkel also announced benefits for people likely to be deported would be reduced. These could include items such as food, clothing and accommodation.

Meanwhile, Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro will be added to Germany’s list of “safe” countries of origin, enabling quicker deportation of migrants from these countries.

The chancellor said on Monday that an additional €3 billion would be added to the 2016 federal budget to pay for refugees and said it was possible that Germany’s spending on asylum seekers could reach €10 billion. A further €3 billion is being made available to federal states.

While a poll published last week for broadcaster ARD showed strong public acceptance of refugees, Dr Merkel’s handling of the situation has been criticised from within her conservative bloc. The CSU criticised the admission of refugees at the weekend as “the wrong decision”. Horst Seehofer, the party leader, warned that the government had to pay attention to the “concerns and fears of the population” if it wanted to prevent the rise of the far right. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015)