German lower house labels three N. African countries 'safe'

13th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

Germany's lower house Friday declared three North African nations "safe countries of origin", to raise the bar for political asylum requests by their citizens, despite fierce opposition protests.

Passage of the law on Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia was, however, far from assured in the upper house, where it could be blocked in June by the Greens and far-left Linke parties.

Human rights groups and opposition critics have pointed at discrimination against gays and lesbians, curbs on free speech and assembly, and reports of abuse and torture in the Maghreb countries.

The parliamentary vote marked a "black Friday for the right to asylum in Germany", said Linke lawmaker Andrej Hunko, while refugee aid group Pro Asyl called the bill unconstitutional.

The Bundestag lower house -- dominated by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and their centre-left allies -- voted to add the three countries to the official "safe" list in a bid to curb the arrival of "economic migrants", as it earlier did with several Balkans countries.

Merkel -- who last year opened Germany's borders to more than one million refugees and migrants, mainly from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan -- has since come under intense pressure to limit the influx.

Popular fears about migrants were heightened by mass sexual attacks against women on New Year's Eve in Cologne and other cities blamed mostly on groups of men from North African countries.

A number of steps at the national and EU level, but chiefly the closure of the Balkans route by eastern European governments, have sharply reduced arrivals in recent months.

Last year, over 25,000 people from Maghreb countries came to Germany, which granted less than one percent of their asylum requests but has struggled to expel those rejected because they lacked valid identity papers.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has rejected the criticism of the latest step by opposition parties and human rights groups.

He has argued that, although designated safe countries are assumed to not systematically persecute their citizens, individual requests for protection would still be considered.

© 2016 AFP

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