German navy to withdraw from EU anti-human smuggling op

      By Ayhan Simsek 

BERLIN (AA) – Germany is planning to suspend its participation in the EU’s anti-smuggling mission over growing differences between the EU and Italy, local media reported on Wednesday.

Military inspector general Eberhard Zorn informed the country's parliament that the navy would no longer deploy ships in the Mediterranean Sea as part of Operation Sophia as of next month, reported German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung.

Italy, which hosts the operation’s headquarters, threatened last year to leave the mission due to the reluctance of other EU members to share the burden of refugee arrivals.

The Italian government insisted on the rotation of the ports where migrants rescued at sea would disembark to include the ports of other EU member states.

Last December, the EU extended the mandate of Operation Sophia until March 31.

The operation was launched by EU countries in 2015 in a bid to disrupt human-smuggling networks operating in Libya and across Africa.

Germany to limit asylum from Maghreb countries

     By Ayhan Simsek</p>  <p>BERLIN (AA) - The German parliament's lower house approved on Friday a contentious law to limit asylum applications from Georgia and three Maghreb countries Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. </p>  <p>Some 509 German lawmakers, mostly from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative-left coalition government, voted in favor of the legislation, which declared Georgia, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as “safe countries of origin”. </p>  <p>Also 138 lawmakers, mainly from the opposition Greens and the Left Party, voted against the draft law. </p>  <p>Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has defended government’s plan, saying that last year less than 3 percent of asylum applications from these four countries were found credible.  </p>  <p>He said the new legislation would speed up the processing of asylum applications and enable faster deportation of illegal migrants.  </p>  <p>The legislation still needs the approval of the upper house the Bundesrat, where the opposition Greens and Left Party are planing to block it. 

Germany's Merkel voices support for UN migration pact

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday voiced her support for a UN migration pact, saying that only through international cooperation can a solution be found to global challenges.

Addressing lawmakers in the parliament during a debate on annual budget, Merkel sharply criticized the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) for its opposition to the UN Global Compact for Migration.

“We have experienced that the issues of displacement and migration can only be addressed in an international context, not any country can address this problem alone,” Merkel said, referring to the Syrian refugee flows since 2015.

She praised the success of the EU-Turkey refugee agreement in countering irregular migration and improving the living conditions of Syrian refugees.

Merkel underlined that the UN Global Compact for Migration would not be legally binding, but would set out the guidelines for states on the issues of migration and asylum.

“With this pact, we are searching for the right answers. We are at the beginning, we are trying to find together international solutions to the global problems,” she said.

UN’s landmark agreement on migration was concluded in July, after two-year long discussions among the member states.

The legally non-binding agreement, which aims at making the migration more orderly and safer around the world, will be formally adopted at an international conference in Morocco on Dec. 10-11.

Europe’s populist governments in Austria, Poland and Hungary, and several other countries including the U.S., Israel and Australia have recently announced that they would not sign onto the pact, claiming that it could undermine their sovereignty and immigration policies.

Row over ex-spy chief's new job hits German coalition

BERLIN (AA) – Germany’s conservative interior minister has sparked a new row in the coalition government by giving a critical post to the ex-spy chief removed over his right-wing contacts and controversial remarks on anti-immigrant violence.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Wednesday that he would make ex-spy chief Hans-Georg Maassen an undersecretary responsible for security affairs at the ministry.

The contentious spy chief was removed from his post by the government on Tuesday, after coalition partner the Social Democratic Party insisted that he could no longer stay head of the domestic intelligence agency BfV, due to his recent comments on far-right unrest in Germany.

Interior Minister Seehofer, who also leads the Christian Social Union (CSU), a sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), dismissed criticisms by the Social Democrats on Wednesday, and praised Maassen for his achievements over the last four years.

“Mr. Maassen has had great successes in fight against terrorism, in the fight against left- and right-wing extremism (…) in developing our security cooperation with Israel, with the U.S., with Great Britain, and other countries,” he told reporters in Berlin.

Ralf Stegner, the SPD’s vice-chair, heavily criticized Seehofer for promoting Maassen to the position of undersecretary.

“We are really running out of patience with the grand coalition,” Stegner told Inforadio on Wednesday.

Maassen had sparked a debate in the country through his comments on the recent far-right unrest in eastern Germany and his dubious contacts with far-right politicians.

Despite Chancellor Angela Merkel’s strong condemnation of the far-right violence in Chemnitz and her branding the incidents the “hunting down” of foreigners, Maassen claimed that there was no clear evidence showing that protestors had attacked migrants, and further argued that social media videos of such incidents could be propaganda by far-left groups.

On Tuesday, following nearly two-hour crisis talks between Merkel, Seehofer, and SPD leader Andrea Nahles, the government announced that Maassen would be removed from his post.

Merkel has not yet publicly commented on Maassen, but media reports claimed last week that she also backed his removal from the post, due to his frequent media appearances in recent weeks and his interference in daily politics.

Maassen, who served as the BfV's head since 2012, has been an outspoken critic of Merkel’s open-door policy for refugees.

In recent weeks he came under fire from the SPD for his contacts with senior politicians from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which touts an anti-immigration, anti-Islam platform.

The AfD and far-right groups had held anti-immigration rallies in eastern cities in recent weeks, following reports of murder and other crimes allegedly perpetrated by refugees.

During the protests, several mobs hunted down people deemed "foreign looking" on the streets and attacked restaurants owned by Jews or other migrants.

UPDATE – Germany: Immigrant population reaches 23.6 pct in 2017

UPDATES WITH FIGURES ON SYRIAN, IRAQI AND AFGHAN REFUGEES

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – The share of immigrants and their descendants in Germany’s population has increased to 23.6 percent in 2017, according to figures released on Wednesday.

Some 19.3 million people out of 81.7 million people have at least one parent born without German citizenship, said Destatis, the federal statistical office.

In 2016, 22.5 percent of Germany’s population — 18.6 million people — were immigrants or their descendants.

According to the statistical office’s “Microcensus 2017” report, Turks continue to be the largest immigrant group in Germany with an estimated population of 2.8 million; 2.1 million Poles and 1.4 million Russians were the two other major immigrant populations.

Among the 19.3 million people with an immigration background, around 9.8 million were German citizens, and nearly 9.5 million were foreign nationals.

The number of Syrians fleeing civil war and seeking shelter in Germany has also increased by almost 10 percent last year; the overall Syrian population has reached 700,000, according to Destatis.

Among the 227,000 Iraqis living in Germany, 156,000 have applied for asylum.

The number of Afghan asylum seekers were recorded at 190,000.

UPDATE – Hungary, Germany differ in stance over refugee policy

UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS BY GERMAN CHANCELLOR

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban set out starkly different views on refugee crisis in a tense joint news conference following their meeting in Berlin on Thursday.

Merkel defended her humanitarian approach on the refugee crisis and highlighted that she decided to open borders for refugees in 2015 due to exceptional circumstances at that time.

“We should always remember, and we should never forget that it is about human beings…This is also about one of the basic messages of Europe, and it is humanity,” she said.

Merkel acknowledged that the EU member states had made a mistake in the past by neglecting Syrian refugees and leaving Turkey alone in addressing this challenge, until refugees started to arrive in Europe.

“I spoke about this often, we had all neglected providing assistance to refugee camps in Syria, and many refugees taking shelter in Turkey,” she said.

The chancellor underlined that the EU-Turkey refugee agreement of 2016 has been successful in significantly reducing the irregular refugee flows, and improving the conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

She recalled the EU promised with that agreement to resettle some of the refugees throughout member states.

“Turkey would not have agreed to this deal, if we did not agree to take in refugees from Turkey,” she said.

Challenging Merkel’s humanitarian approach during the news conference, Orban argued that this was serving as a “pull factor”, encouraging more migrants to try entering Europe.

Instead, the Hungarian prime minister advocated stricter measures at the EU’s external borders, to stop illegal crossings.

“It is unfair that many in Germany accuse us of not showing enough solidarity.

"In fact, in Hungary some 8,000 armed guards are conducting 24-hour patrols at the border,” he said.

Orban argued that in the absence of such measures by Hungary, thousands of migrants would have come to Germany everyday.

Merkel has been under growing pressure at home to address the refugee issue.

She has recently agreed to stricter measures, after her coalition partner CSU’s leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer threatened to quit the government.

Germany received more than a million refugees in the last thee years, mostly from Syria and Iraq.

Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open doors for refugees fleeing conflicts and persecution was widely criticized by conservatives, and was exploited by the far-right and populist parties.

Hungary, Germany differ in stance over refugee policy

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban set out starkly different views on refugee crisis in a tense joint news conference following their meeting in Berlin on Thursday.

Merkel defended her humanitarian approach on the refugee crisis and stressed that she decided to open borders for refugees in 2015 due to exceptional circumstances at that time.

“We should always remember, and we should never forget that it is about human beings…this is also about one of the basic messages of Europe, and it is humanity,” she said.

Challenging Merkel’s approach during the news conference, Orban argued that this was serving as a “pull factor”, encouraging more migrants to try entering Europe.

Instead, the Hungarian prime minister advocated stricter measures at the EU’s external borders, to stop illegal crossings.

“It is unfair that many in Germany accuse us of not showing enough solidarity. In fact, in Hungary some 8,000 armed guards are conducting 24-hour patrols at the border,” he said.

Orban argued that in the absence of such measures by Hungary, thousands of migrants would have come to Germany everyday.

Merkel has been under growing pressure at home to address the refugee issue.

She has recently agreed to stricter measures, after her coalition partner CSU’s leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer threatened to quit the government.

Germany received more than a million refugees in the last thee years, mostly from Syria and Iraq.

Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open doors for refugees fleeing conflicts and persecution was widely criticized by conservatives, and was exploited by the far-right and populist parties.

Merkel applauds Turkey for efforts on refugee crisis

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has applauded Turkey for hosting more than 3 million Syrian refugees and renewed a call on EU member states to assume more responsibility for a European solution to the refugee crisis.

Addressing lawmakers in Germany's parliament on Wednesday, Merkel underlined the importance of an EU decision last week to allocate an additional €3 billion in assistance for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

“We can criticize Turkey on many other issues, but what Turkey has done by providing shelter to refugees that have fled civil war in Syria, is a big contribution. And that deserves all the appreciation,” she stressed.

Amid criticism by opposition politicians, Merkel underlined that the EU’s financial aid was not transferred to Turkey’s state budget, and specifically used for projects to improve the conditions of Syrian refugees.

The chancellor also informed the lawmakers on last week’s EU leaders summit in Brussels which was focused on ways to address the refugee crisis.

“This challenge is not something one or several member states can address alone, rather this is a task for all of us,” Merkel stressed, and said the leaders reached a common understanding on the need for a closer cooperation.

She praised the success of EU-Turkey cooperation, and vowed to clinch agreements with African countries to control irregular migrant flows through the Mediterranean.

In 2016 Merkel had championed the EU-Turkey refugee agreement with the hope of stopping the refugee influx, after nearly a million refugees arrived in Germany.

The EU had pledged €6 billion ($7.44 billion) in funding for the refugees, and promised to mobilize the second €3 billion ($3.72 billion) tranche by the end of 2018.

The agreement has been successful in significantly reducing the number of crossings in the Aegean Sea, and preventing the loss of many lives.

Turkey hosts some 3.5 million Syrians, more than any other country in the world. Ankara says it has spent around $25 billion helping and sheltering refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

German coalition partners in crisis talks

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – Germany’s coalition government was brought to the verge of collapse on Sunday as the ultra-conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) turned down Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent proposals for an EU-wide solution to the refugee crisis.

CSU leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who advocated unilateral measures such as turning away asylum-seekers at Germany’s national border, held an emergency meeting on Sunday in Munich with party officials on the future of the coalition.

Local media reported Seehofer voiced his frustration at the meeting with Merkel’s recent proposals and argued that the conclusions of last week's EU summit would be “ineffective” in stemming illegal migration.

German press agency DPA reported that at the meeting Seehofer proposed resigning as the leader of CSU and the interior minister, but senior party officials reportedly opposed the move.

In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel gathered with senior members of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to discuss the latest developments.

CDU Secretary General Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters at the party headquarters that their executive board would not take any decision before an official statement of Horst Seehofer, which was expected later Sunday night.

Merkel has so far opposed Seehofer’s "migration master plan" and argued that unilateral moves would have “a domino effect”, prompting other EU member states to push back refugees and further increase the burden of member states like Italy and Greece.

The German chancellor managed to clinch an agreement with EU member states at a summit in Brussels last week, which envisaged setting up “migrant camps” inside and outside the EU, where asylum seekers would be forced to stay when their applications are examined by authorities.

She also pledged to conclude bilateral agreements with European partners such as Greece and Spain, with the goal of returning asylum seekers, who first entered the EU soil from these countries, but later arrived in Germany.

The CSU, which faces a regional election in Bavaria in October, has recently sharpened its criticism of Merkel’s open-door policy for refugees, and argued that Germany should not wait for other EU member states, and move forward with unilateral measures to stop irregular migration.

Seehofer's "migration master plan" foresees turning away asylum-seekers at Germany’s border if they entered the EU from another member state and first registered there. Or if they had already applied for asylum and been rejected.

Germany received more than a million refugees in the last thee years, mostly from Syria and Iraq.

Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open doors for refugees fleeing conflicts and persecution was widely criticized by conservative media outlets, and was exploited by the far-right and populist parties.

Her CDU and its sister party CSU have suffered heavy losses in the country's federal elections last year, while the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) scored record gains and entered the parliament for the first time.

Merkel praises Turkey, pushes more support for refugees

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling on EU member states to agree this week to allocate an additional €3 billion in assistance for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Addressing lawmakers in Germany's parliament ahead of an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, Merkel underlined that the EU-Turkey agreement of 2016 has been successful in reducing irregular migration flows, and reaffirmed the EU’s financial pledge as part of the deal.

“I hope that the European Council will now bring together the second €3 billion tranche, and then we will be able to say again that we are helping Turkey in overcoming the challenges of having over 3 million Syrian refugees,” she said.

Leaders of 28 EU member states are gathering in Brussels on Thursday for a two-day summit that will focus on the refugee crisis and proposals for an EU-wide asylum.

Merkel praised Turkey’s efforts for more than 3 million refugees it has hosted since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, stressing that Europeans should be grateful for that accomplishment, despite political differences between Brussels and Ankara on a number of political issues.

“Whatever you may say about Turkey, that is a fantastic achievement that Turkey has done here,” she stressed.

In March 2016, EU and Turkey reached an agreement to stop irregular migration through the Aegean Sea, and improve the conditions of more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The EU pledged €6 billion ($7.44 billion) in funding for the refugees, and promised to mobilize the second €3 billion ($3.72 billion) tranche by the end of 2018.

Turkey hosts some 3.5 million Syrians, more than any other country in the world. Ankara says it has spent around $25 billion helping and sheltering refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.