Feeling the strain, Germany moves to tighten asylum rules
Germany, which has for two years been Europe's leading destination for asylum seekers, is planning to toughen its immigration laws as it struggles to deal with a growing influx of new arrivals.
While Greece and Italy have called for more European funding to help deal with the flow of immigrants arriving on their shores, Germany is readying steps to tighten rules for applicants from three Balkan states.
The Bundesrat upper house of parliament is due to debate draft legislation later this month that would make it easier for authorities to deport asylum seekers from the formerly war-ravaged states of Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Berlin says it wants to focus instead on refugees from more dangerous warzones such as Syria and Iraq.
Lawmakers in the lower Bundestag have already approved the measure, which is opposed by human rights organisations.
Ministers from Germany's 16 regional states held two days of discussions on the issue, ending on Friday.
Thuringia state's interior minister Joerg Geibert said the measure aimed to cover asylum seekers whose request "is obviously unjustified".
After a surge in applicants in recent years, Berlin has argued that the three Balkan states are safe and citizens don't face persecution, torture, arbitrary violence, or inhumane or humiliating treatment.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said efforts now needed to be focused on refugees fleeing current hotspots.
"We must watch that we concentrate on refugees who urgently need help or for whom there are grounds for asylum, such as people from Syria," she told the Maerkische Allgemeine regional newspaper.
'Restrictive asylum policy'
Serbs, often from the impoverished Roma minority, are among the biggest groups of asylum seekers in Germany.
Even if their requests end up being rejected, they receive benefits while their applications are being considered – possibly for several months – that often exceed what they can hope to earn back home.
Petra Follmar-Otto of the German Institute for Human Rights said all the measures boiled down to a "restrictive" policy on asylum law that would "seriously change the way in which one deals with people who are looking for protection".
Since the end of 2010, the number of asylum requests in Germany has soared.
For the last two years, Europe's biggest economy has attracted more asylum requests than any other country in the European Union.
In 2013 requests jumped 64 percent to 127,023, according to German government data, making up 29 percent of the total number of requests registered in the EU.
The long and bloody conflict in Syria has seen the number of Syrian asylum requests in Germany increase almost threefold since the start of the year, while those from Iraqis has doubled.
Many of the refugees have made a perilous journey across the Mediterranean and eventually arrive in big cities such as Berlin where centres are already feeling the strain.
Some 6,141 refugees had arrived in the German capital by late August, more than the figure for the whole of 2013.
The city has now taken the unprecedented step of closing until the start of next week its arrival centre for refugees, forcing them to turn to relatives or rely on charities.
In other German cities asylum seekers are living in gymnasiums, bus depots or in tents, as is the case in the southeastern city of Nuremberg.
The German Institute for Human Rights has complained about conditions in some centres, while the Pro Asyl organisation warns such emergency solutions cannot drag on forever.
Yannick Pasquet / AFP / Expatica