March 23, 2017 / 5:09 PM / 6 months ago

Merkel ally says Germany must tackle benefit fraud by asylum seekers

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during the opening ceremony of the CeBit computer fair, which will open its doors to the public on March 20, at the fairground in Hanover, Germany, March 19, 2017. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany needs to change its laws so that asylum seekers guilty of benefit fraud are removed from the asylum process, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday, striking a tough tone six months before a federal election.

More than a million migrants have arrived in Germany over the last two years and unease with the mainly Muslim newcomers has pushed up support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD). It is expected to enter parliament as the third-biggest party after the Sept. 24 election.

The influx has cost Merkel support, with some voters abandoning the conservatives for the AfD, and her conservative bloc has toughened its stance on migrants in recent months.

“Those who abuse our willingness to help and trample all over our hospitality have no prospects in our country in the long term,” said Stephan Harbarth, deputy leader of the conservative bloc in parliament.

Reports have circulated of some asylum seekers obtaining multiple benefits using different identities. The AfD has accused asylum seekers of committing such fraud.

“People don’t understand why an asylum seeker who abuses his rights as a guest by committing social fraud can stay here permanently and continue to receive social benefits,” Harbarth told Reuters.

On Thursday, the Bundestag lower house of parliament debated a law that aims to make it easier to put migrants obliged to leave the country in detention pending deportation if they pose a “significant danger for life and limb of third parties”. It would also make it easier to put electronic tags on such people.

Harbarth, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, wants to consult the Social Democrats (SPD) - junior partner in Merkel’s coalition - on the issue of benefit fraud as part of discussions about that law, on which the Bundestag is due to vote in the coming weeks.

The opposition Greens and far-left Linke have criticised the planned law. Linke politician Petra Pau said such a law would likely create a hostile attitude towards people who need protection.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere called for consultations on the law to be quick. He said integrating migrants who need protection and deporting those who do not were two sides of the same coin.

He also said it was necessary to carry out deportations more effectively and to monitor migrants due to be deported who pose a danger as well as to better determine migrants’ identities.

Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Susan Fenton

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