Germany agrees further bilateral deal on refugee transfer with Greece

Source:Xinhua Published: 2018/8/17 22:19:58

Greece has become the second country after Spain which has agreed to take back asylum seekers from Germany who first entered the European Union (EU) via its own sovereign territory, a spokesperson for the German interior ministry announced on Friday.

"A conclusion (of negotiation) is imminent," the spokesperson told press in Berlin. The interior ministry said that a bilateral agreement was reached on Thursday night but did not provide any information about details of the deal and potential concessions secured by Greece from Germany in exchange.

The spokesperson further emphasized that parallel talks with Italy were already "very well-advanced." German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) recently announced that she would become personally involved in negotiations with Rome if needed to arrive at a mutually-agreeable outcome.

The German-Greek cooperation to prevent so-called "secondary migration" of asylum seekers within the Schengen free travel zone mirrors a deal signed earlier by Berlin and Madrid.

Authorities in Germany are generally only able to refuse entry to foreign citizens without documents at the border if they did not plan to file an application for humanitarian residence in the country itself. Under the new bilateral regulations, this circumstance regulation will no longer apply to non-EU nationals who attempt to enter Germany illicitly after first setting foot in Spain or Greece. Even individuals who indicate that they want to obtain asylum upon arrival will be detained and returned to their first entry point into the EU within 48 hours.

A formal diplomatic agreement is also still pending with Germany's southern neighbor Austria, although Berlin and Vienna had already reached an informal consensus on the issue.

The number of asylum seekers who arrive in Germany has fallen dramatically since the height of the "refugee crisis" in 2015. Nevertheless, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) recently threatened to resign unless Chancellor Merkel endorsed his controversial proposal to automatically turn back all asylum seekers at the German border who have previously been registered elsewhere in the bloc.

The ultimatum imposed by the interior minister marked an unprecedented show of cabinet disobedience and posed a threat to the ruling "grand coalition" government.

A last-minute compromise was ultimately reached between Merkel and Seehofer to establish so-called transit centers where affected asylum seekers will be held before organizing their return to the responsible member state on the basis of prior bilateral agreements such as these signed with Spain and Greece.

Statistics compiled by the interior ministry suggest that the first agreement between Berlin and Madrid will have little impact on the number of refugees reaching Germany via the country. Given the geographic location of Spain in the far west of Europe, it is unlikely that refugees and other irregular migrants will take a detour through Austria to reach Germany.

Nevertheless, the federal government insists that the announced cooperation with Greece and Spain on secondary migration would prove worthwhile.

According to a spokesperson, the bilateral agreement constituted an "important step to ordering and controlling migration policy and strengthening the integrity of the joint European asylum system."

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