May 9, 2018 / 1:20 PM / 13 days ago

Ending long row, German government agrees migrant family policy

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet agreed on rules on Wednesday to allow a limited number of family members to join migrants in Germany, ending a long-standing dispute between the parties in her two-month old right-left coalition.

A girl holds a placard reading, "where is my Mother, where is my Father", as refugees protest, some announcing a hunger strike, as they seek reunification with family members in Germany, near the parliament building in Athens, Greece, November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/Files

The issue had dogged relations between Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Social Democrats (SPD) in the coalition talks and in government. There are also divisions among the conservatives, with the Bavarian CSU taking a harder line than Merkel’s CDU.

Under the new rules, 1,000 close relatives of people with ‘subsidiary status’, who enjoy a lesser degree of protection than those granted full refugee status, can move to Germany per month on humanitarian grounds from August.

This applies to spouses, minors and the parents of minors.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a Bavarian conservative, said the draft law was a “responsible balance” between the government’s duty to keep families together and the authorities’ capacity to cope with large numbers of migrants.

“In this difficult area, we (coalition parties) have shown that we can work effectively together to steer and manage migration and also to set limits,” said Seehofer.

More than 1.6 million migrants have arrived in Germany since 2014, many fleeing wars in the Middle East, causing concern about integration problems in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy.

Refugees, some announcing a hunger strike, hold placards during a protest as they seek reunification with family members in Germany, near the parliament building in Athens, Greece, November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/Files

FLEXIBILITY

Under pressure to limit new arrivals, Merkel’s government suspended family reunions in March 2016 - a move that especially affected Syrians, the biggest group of asylum applicants in Germany, many of whom have been granted subsidiary protection.

The new rules, to go through parliament in coming weeks, envisage a degree of flexibility in the first five months.

If a full contingent of 1,000 people is not used, spare places can be carried over to future months. This was a compromise to accommodate the SPD’s demand for permanent flexibility, which the conservatives rejected.

People with a criminal record or viewed as a potential security threat will not be entitled to reunifications. However, in a controversial move, exceptions have been granted for individuals who had previously been under suspicion but have since reformed and work with authorities.

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“This proposal comes from the madhouse,” said Alice Weidel, a leading member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), adding that the government was making it easy for potential terrorists “to settle in our country by bringing over their families”.

German media have reported that there are already some 26,000 requests to apply for reunions.

Reporting by Thorsten Severin and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Gareth Jones

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